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Overall there is a lack of governmental standards and monitoring coverage for WASH in Schools. For a regional program in Central America, we developed minimum technical standards through a consultative process with governmental and non-governmental officials. They are applied where governmental standards are absent or incomplete.
El Salvador has regulatory policy requiring the Ministry of Health to monitor WASH conditions in schools and issue sanitary permits to those meeting specific WASH standards, and close those which don't. Unfortunately we've been unable to identify field-level staff aware of the existence of such a policy.
The Ministry of Education in Guatemala has minimum standards for water and sanitation for new school construction. Unfortunately they too seemed to have been filed in an office in the capital and after two years we finally learned of their existence.
The WASH in Schools global mapping exercise is a positive step towards addressing the issue. Hopefully UNICEF can lead advocacy efforts to produce results not only in the development/adoption of national standards where they are absent but also in their application. National-level mapping exercises should be a key first step in WASH in Schools advocacy plans.
In Central America it is clear that we have failed. Our partners estimate that approximately 30,000 of 40,000 rural public schools in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua lack adequate WASH conditions. Sadly most had them at one point in time.
WASH in Schools shouldn't be so complicated but it is - due to the reasons well described in this debate. The key challenges are:
a) poor maintenance due in part to lack of clarity on who exactly is responsible for it and who pays
b) lack of leadership of teachers and ministry of education officials to mandate and implement hygiene training in classrooms
c) lack of medium/long-term monitoring, and
d) inadequate WASH conditions at home.
These are some big IF'S but - IF we can achieve inclusion of school components in broader WASH initiatives and WASH components in broader educational initiatives, and get agreement on how to address a, b, and c above prior to investing more, we might not repeat this debate in 2021!
Many resources on WASH in Schools are available, but getting them into inboxes along with information on news and events is important. A global WASH in Schools eNewsletter (monthly or quarterly, similar to IRC E-Source) could be distributed to governmental and NGO professionals who focus not only on WASH, but also education.
Through a cooperation agreement with UNICEF TACRO, we are developing a newsletter and improving the washenescuelas.org website designed for those who prefer Spanish.
The current UNICEF-led WASH in Schools global mapping exercise is an excellent example of an initiative designed to bring to light information on the state of WASH in Schools at the country level and/or identify the need to produce that information.
I coordinate a WASH in Schools program across several countries in Central America and came here after seeing the note in today's IRC E-Source newsletter stating that the conclusion of the edebate is that "more scientific evidence is needed on impacts of WASH in schools action on the ground in the developing world."
I personally share the opinion stated in the introduction of this debate that we don’t need more evidence for WASH in Schools - it is the right for every child. However, assuming a) decision-makers in government and development organizations prioritize investments based upon potential health and educational impacts and b) there is indeed a lack of evidence surrounding the impact of WASH in Schools interventions, we have hired a consultant (through a cooperation agreement with UNICEF TACRO) to apply and validate a WASH in Schools impact evaluation methodology in Honduras over the coming months. In October we expect initial results and a validated methodology which can be applied by any organization.
However, if I am making decisions about whether or not to invest in WASH in Schools, I invest but by including a school component in a broader WASH initiative or by including a WASH component in a broader education initiative. And I don't need more evidence to support that decision, because of the rights-based argument and also because I believe that my return on investment is greater this way than by investing in a standalone WASH in Schools program.
I am probably a good person but I haven't taken the time to fill out my profile, so you'll never know!