School toilets and integrity: assessing this WASH problem

This blog entry was written by Binayak Das, Knowledge and Research Coordinator, as well as regional coordinator for South Asia, at WIN.

School going kids in many countries are deprived of basic sanitation and hygiene facilities despite funds and projects innumerable. This can happen as funds for building toilets gets siphoned off; or if a toilet is built, maintenance funds go missing leaving the toilets unusable by students. UNICEF estimates that more than half of world’s schools lack clean toilets, drinking water and hygiene lessons for all school children. The lack of school sanitation is a telling factor that impacts students, especially girls and their completion of school education. This is a common situation in many countries including India. Official figures seem to project success while in reality, the case is otherwise. Take the example of Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India which has a total of 96,277 schools; and it is reported that 89% of the schools have a toilet facility according to the District Information System for Education statistics from 2010. This number however does not indicate if the facilities are benefiting the students. Data from the state education department states that only 26% of the facilities are functional and about 28% of the schools only have a functional toilet for girls. Toilets are lying idle because of various reasons – shoddy or incomplete construction, lack of water facility, non-availability of toilet cleaning and hand washing ingredients, and unclean toilets. Accountability and transparency is missing from this process. All these reasons point towards the lack of integrity in construction, operation and maintenance process of the toilets and this runs contrary to the standards and norms as per the Right to Education Act that schools need to fulfill.

School children in India - photo credit Binayak Das

School children in India – photo credit Binayak Das

There are gaps that exist in the policies and implementation processes and which if strengthened, can go a far way in improving sanitation facilities for children and in turn empowering them with education. The lack of integrity is one of the stronger gaps and how to change this-integrity related problems needs to be assessed beyond anecdotes and secondary data, and recommendations made. And to assess integrity for the first time in school WASH, Fresh Water Action Network South Asia (FANSA) with support from Arghyam, water foundation in India and the Water Integrity Network has launched a project focused on three districts of Andhra Pradesh-Kurnool, Warangal and Viskhapatnam. The project covers 225 schools in these districts and will use a set of tools to churn out the integrity gaps. Secondary data is collected from all these schools which will be followed by collecting information through questionnaires, focused group discussions and ultimately using an adapted version of the Annotated Water Integrity Scan (AWIS) tool in 24 schools to assess integrity in school WASH. By the end of 2013, the assessment will be shared with the state government with a set of identified risks where, intervention can help improve the students’ sanitation services in schools.

Planning meeting for the school toilets and integrity assessment - photo credit Binayak Das

Planning meeting for the school toilets and integrity assessment – photo credit Binayak Das

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