School enrolment within some selected local government areas of Anambra State has soared by more than one hundred percent following the introduction of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) interventions as well as Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) projects in the state.
Communities such as Ononaku Isioji Ezinifite and Anuli Community School in Aguata Local Government Area of the state are among those benefitting from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) assisted programme which has taken off in five of the 24 local government areas of Anambra State.
Enrolment at Anuli Community School has more than doubled from 140 pupils before the programme to over 300 pupils. The Headmistress of the School, Mrs. Francisca Onyebuchi said the programme has put an end to open defecation in the school by the provision of 10 flush toilets for boys and girls.
Chioma Umeofia, a primary five pupil who has joined the school Environmental Health Club stated that girls no longer absent themselves from school as a result of menstrual circle or diarrhea.
The WASH interventions and CLTS projects of UNICEF with support from the European Union (EU) have continued to improve the lives of rural communities in Anambra State.
Anambra, Yobe, Kano, Jigawa, Osun and Cross River are the six states in Nigeria that UNICEF through WASH interventions is empowering rural communities by reducing the incidence of water borne diseases, improve personal hygiene and putting an end to open defecation.
Speaking to The Daily Times during a visit to the school recently, Onyebuchi revealed that prior to the establishment of WASH interventions, school attendance was poor.
“The implications of not having toilet facilities and water supply in our school were enormous as our pupils were exposed to all kinds of health hazards.
“But today, the support of UNICEF has changed the narrative. WASH interventions have put an end to open defecation in the school with the provision of 10 flush toilets for boys and girls. I must say that since these toilets were built, enrolment into the school has increased tremendously because both parents and pupils are happy about the development”, she explained.
The Headmistress noted with joy: “Before the toilets were built and water supplied, we had 140 pupils and they were daily asked to bring water to school from home. But now we have over 300 pupils since UNICEF changed our story.”
UNICEF report shows that learning, hygiene and health are strongly inter-linked as children miss school or perform poorly when they are suffering from WASH related illnesses such as diarrhea.
Another report also shows that absenteeism can also occur when primary school-age children are involved in tasks such as the collection of water from distant sources to their homes.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 842,000 deaths from diarrheal diseases each year could by prevented by improved water, sanitation and hygiene
Expressing delight over the gesture, Onyebuchi further said: “We are happy for the facilities beacuse before they were provided for us, we were faced with lots of dangers beacuse the pupils were going to the bush to defecate.
The ones we had then were death-trap. But now, things have changed. We are grateful to UNICEF for changing our lives.”
According to her, the interventions had also promoted good menstrual hygiene management in the school,adding that the facilities had improved personal hygiene and environmental sanitation.
Indeed, pupils of Anuli Community School especially girls are living testimonies to the benefit of WASH and CLTS. CLTS is an innovative methodology for mobilising communities to completely eliminate open defecation ( OD).
Sharing her experience with The Daily Times, Umeofia said: ” Since they provided us with good toilet facilities and safe water which have made our school environment clean and conducive for learning , I now love to come to school regularly. Before now, my friends and I were always absent from school when those facilities were not there.”
Umeofia who is a member of the Enviromental Health Club of her school noted: “The reasons for our absence from school then were very clear. We used to go to the bush to defecate and we didn’t like that.
Some times, when the bushes around were filled with feaces, we resorted to “cat method”, that is digging the ground. Besides, we were always down with diarrhea which our parents and teachers attributed to dirty school environment.”
UNICEF report reveals that WASH in school improves attendance, health and cognitive development. It also increases girls participation, establishes positive hygiene behaviours, offers the opportunities to introduce better WASH practices in families and communities and address issues of inequity and exclusion.
The young hygiene ambassador who could not hide her joy continued: ” Again, apart from the problem of open defecation, we didn’t have water to wash our hands let alone for drinking.
This lack of water, sanitation and hygiene made our school to smell all the time while the stench from the feaces did not allow us to concentrate in class.
So, for the fear of an outbreak of disease in our school, our teachers compelled us to come to school everyday with water to wash our hands after defecating in the bush which we did not find convenient.”
She concluded: “These challenges made many of us to avoid school. But thank God today, things have changed. Water is available. Toilet is avialble. I am now proud of my school and also proud of going to school regularly. I thank the sponsors for their support ”
According to UNICEF, it has been estimated that infections which children contract in schools will lead to infections in up to half of their household members and that 88 per cent of diarrheal diseases are caused by unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and inappropriate hygiene.
However, evidence has shown that use of improved sanitary facilities reduces the incidence of diarrhea by 35 per cent. While washing hands with soap after toilet use and before eating has been cited as one of the most cost-effective public health interventions because it could reduce the incidence of diarrhea by almost 40 per cent.
Obviously, clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practices are essential for the survival and development of a people particularly children and women who are always in dire need of these facilities.
Speaking at a Two-Day Media Dialogue on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene held in the state recently, UNICEF WASH Specialist, Abuja, Mainga Moono Banda, acknowledged that WASH could affect school attendance due to diarrheal disease.
The workshop was organised in Anambra State by Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF for select journalists across the country to promote water, sanitation and hygiene issues as fundamental issues of human rights.
Quoting WHO’s 2004 statistics, Banda said that it has been estimated that 194 million school days would be gained due to less diarrheal disease if targets for sanitations were met.
She noted that more investment was required in safe water supply, sanitation and hygiene following their critical role in health, nutrition and education.
In her presentation which focused on water situation in the country, Banda emphasised that safe water supply, improved sanitation and hygiene must be put in place for Nigeria to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), stressing that each of the 17 SDGs has WASH sector embedded in it particularly SDG goal 6 with specific target on WASH.
The target according to her, is to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 and to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all,and end open defecation same year.
Commenting on water, sanitation and hygiene situation in Anambra State, Programme Manager, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency ( RUWASSA) in the state, Victor Ezekwo, said the state government had rehabilitated 116 non functional boreholes across the state.
Ezekwo pointed out that the State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, had signed MOU with a Chinese firm for the mangement of greater Onitsha water supply scheme.
He revealed that rural communities in Aguata, Idemili South, Nnewi, and Anambra East were living testimonies to the benefit of WASH and CLTS, adding that WASH facilities have been provided in 50 primary schools in the area.