Updated - Thursday 02 August 2012
The research and implementation experience of SWASH+ reveal both helping and hindering forces behind the success and sustainability of school WASH. On the one hand, individual schools and community have demonstrated creativity and determination in providing school WASH services even within austere environments (see photo essays). Given the undeniable importance of water and sanitation, schools generally provide WASH services given the proper resources, and try to provide them well. For example, when SWASH+ provided schools with a limited supply of hypochlorite solution and educated them about safe water treatment, at least 40% continued treating their water, compared to 4.5% in control schools, even after supplies ran out. (see Top 10 research findings)
On the other hand, when improvements in school WASH are made, it is the exception, rather than the rule to see those services being consistently provided a year or two or three later. This is in part because schools administrators are more likely to be enthusiastic about the infrastructure components of WASH, such as improved wells and latrines, rather than the “software” components such the availability of soap, the regular cleaning of latrines, and the promotion of handwashing and water treatment, that according to SWASH+ research, make all the difference.
More fundamentally, SWASH+ research points to a insufficient prioritization of school WASH across the nation that manifests itself through a lack of adequate funding for the recurrent costs of school WASH (despite recent significant government investments in infrastructure), a lack of adequate monitoring and information management systems for school WASH, insufficient attention to school WASH in educational materials and lack of support services such as supply chains for parts and latrine emptying services, that would help schools easily manage their school WASH needs over the long term.
Therefore SWASH+ recommends the following for Kenya and similar contexts:
- Improve accountability through monitoring –School teachers, administrators and pupils must be held accountable for the execution of their respective WASH-related responsibilities. A study of the use of soapy water as a more practical alternative to bar soap in schools suggests that frequent monitoring visits are one of the drivers of WASH success. The study showed a marked increase in the availability of soapy water over a 5-month period punctuated by regular monitoring visits from project staff; however, after a 1-year period without regular monitoring the availability of soapy water or soap decreased by 60%.
- Increase regular funding and budget for consumables – Currently the Kenyan Ministry of Education allocates 10 Kenyan Shillings (US$ 0.13) per primary school pupil per year for electricity, water, and sanitation and another 15ksh (US$ 0.18) per pupil per year for repairs and infrastructure. Although the government is in the process of increasing these budgets, the amount is insufficient for the maintenance and upkeep of school WASH facilities and consumables such as soap.
- Emphasize behavior change – Within and beyond schools, changes in behaviors and cultural attitudes relating to health and hygiene are necessary for successful school WASH interventions. A nationwide study by the European Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health (2009) found that only 32% of Kenyans wash their hands after faecal contact. SWASH+ focus group discussions with students, pupils and parents reveal serious lack of knowledge and access to information about menstruation, anal cleansing and other aspects of personal hygiene. School WASH topics must be properly integrated into curricula and fun activities at school level.
- Plan for long-term maintenance – SWASH+ follow-up visits to schools that received WASH interventions in 2006 and 2007 reveal problems with maintenance of school WASH hardware. This is not only due to lack of funds but also because schools do not have easy access to supplies such as replacement taps for water containers and workmen for repair and maintenance of infrastructure. A supply chain analysis conducted for the SWASH+ project concluded that lack of demand for WASH hardware discourages the participation of the private sector while non-standard technology, such as varied latrine designs, further limits access to local maintenance and repair skills. WASH interventions should plan for sustainability by ensuring access to parts and labor, sufficient geographic concentration of interventions to build demand, and standardization of hardware and designs.