It is no secret that the unavailability of a precious natural gift like water is posing great problems to humans and their environments.
In that light, there's been global efforts to addressing the problems associated in accessing clean water and sanitation.
Goal 6 of the the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) looks at availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
The aim of this goal is to ensure that everyone on Earth has access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030.
Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of people around the world with a projected increase as a result of climate change.
Schools which constitute a portion of society are not however excluded in the challenges faced in accessing clean water and sanitation.
According to many teachers and pupils we engaged, in order to make learning easier, the school environment should have a condusive atmosphere with water and sanitation being a major issue to be looked into.
Madam Emma Kanu, is the acting Principal at the DT Akibo Betts Junior Secondary School, Tower Hill.
Speaking to this writer she expresses concerns over the condition of water in their school.
"Water has been a challenge over the years, but in the last six months we have got some aids in terms of how we access water. We are having water supply three times in a week, running through Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays." says Kanu.
She stated that accessing water has been a challenge for them because certain maintainance or repairs have not been put place in order to access water in the principal's office and the staff's rest room; but maintained their pupils are accessing water in both rest rooms (boys and girls).
Throwing a light on sanitation, Madam Kanu says they have a well organized system to maintain sanitation in the school.
"At the start of the academic year in September last year, the Freetown City Council made provision for dust bins; and so far, we've been making use of those facilities. We have a toilet attendant, a cleaner and they've been monitoring the school to ensure that the environment is always clean." says Kanu.
She however expressed concerns over the absence of Jerry can buckets 'Veronica Buckets' introduced during and shortly after Ebola which she said is contributing to the constraints they face in terms of maintaining sanitation in the school.
She further said "Our female pupils mostly find it difficult when undergoing their menstrual cycles due to limited access to water supply.
St. Joseph's Secondary School is an all girls school based in Freetown, speaking to this writer, the Vice Principal of the Senior school, Madam Josephine Cecilia Blake says they access water through the Guma Valley Water Company, but some times the taps are closed for few hours and some times for days. She however, noted that they have a supplementary Water Gen which was helping them, but now shutdown due to unavailability of fuel.
"Many times, when our girls use the rest room they're faced with many constraints, unless they'll have to use water from the well which the school has provided, which is not that pure for drinking." Says Blake.
She complained of the effects unsafe water poses to their pupils and teachers.
"Some times, our girls and even teachers suffer from Diarrhea after drinking the water.We need Guma Valley to put modalities in place so that the water that comes from the tap are safe for consumption." Says Blake.
According to her, sanitation is generally good, but not 100% because they don't have access to pure drinking water and even the one that comes from the tap has some particles when they seave it.Lizzy N. Bangalie is a pupil at the St. Joseph's Senior Secondary School.
She explains on some of the challenges they face.
"We find it so difficult to access water when using the rest room. This, some times results to infections and some of my colleagues have been victims of such."
She called on authorities in charge to provide more access to safe drinking water and increase the number of days in which water is supplied in their school.
Musa Ansumana Soko, Chief Executive Officer of WASHNET-SL Says as an organization, they have been at the central level of advocacy and influencing for increased accessibility to basic water supply and sanitation services at the national.
Their organization he says, has been involved in the School WASH Program particularly in the development of the national plan and engagement with the Ministry of Education with respect to how condusive the learning atmosphere must be for kids.
"As an organization we are very much concerned, as our work has generally been around inclusiveness in the delivery of water services."
Soko, pointed out that many schools have single toilet facilities used by both boys and girls.
"If boys and girls are sharing the same toilet facilities, it will equally mean that we are not only doing injustice to particularly girls who are going to school, but also impeding their level of progress because when they are on their menstrual cycle, they'll tend to sit home for days. If you calculate all the days they sit at home, imagine the number of lessons they would have missed." says Soko.
According to him, in order to deliver education, there should be adequate water and sanitation for all schools and children.
He also noted that the aspect of coordination is key and suggested for inter ministerial collaboration so as to ensure that water, sanitation and hygiene are supplied and well sustained.
At the D. T Akibobetts Junior Secondary School, Madam Emma Kanu, called on the Government to provide Wash Hand Basins in classrooms for teachers and pupils, which she says could help in easing the challenges they are facing in addressing sanitation.
She also requested for the provision of Jerry can buckets, soap and hand sanitizers to their school.
At St. Joseph's Secondary School, Madam Blake called on Guma Valley Water Company to put modalities in place for regular supply of water and ensure that the the supplied water is safe for consumption
MINISTRY OF BASIC AND SENIOR SCHOOL
Madam Adama J. Momoh is the Director of Planning and Policy at the Ministry of Basic and Senior Education.
She says, as a ministry they are concious of the fact that hygiene is very important in schools and for school children.
"There's need for us to provide adequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for all our schools across the country. The government is making efforts to ensuring that some of these facilities are in place." said Momoh.
She also mainrained that It is also the responsibility of the heads of some of those schools to make sure that Water and Sanitation facilities are provided for their kids.
"Some schools are faced with challenges of seasonality- in the dry season the water level goes down, so they don't access the water due to poor construction of especially hand dug wells."
In terms of sanitation, Momoh says " When the government provides toilet facilities, it is the roles of school managements to ensure that they monitor the hygiene system and ensure that the environment is kept clean and tidy."
She noted that they have limited staff to monitor all schools as the inspectorate division is understaffed.
When asked about what has been put in place for schools without latrines or rest rooms, Madam Momoh said:
"Year in, year out, based on goodwill that we get from some of our partners, they request for schools that need WASH facilities we provide information to them on some of these schools."
Addressing the issue of 'Veronica Buckets', Madam Momoh said, the introduction of 'Veronica Buckets' during and shortly after the Ebola was very good in addressing sanitation issues.
"Although it is necessary for us to provide these buckets to schools, their managements should also be in a position to address some of those issues since government is paying fee subsidy for schools."
She also stated that they have limited resources; hence there's no provision for such in this year's budget.
Although 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved water sanitation since 1990, dwindling supplies of safe drinking water is a major problem impacting every continent.
Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 requires investment in adequate infrastructure, provision of sanitation facilities, and encourage hygiene at every level.
According to research , "each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases."
More reasons as to why the need for sanitation should be a global concern.
(With support from Media Reform Coordinating Group, Sierra Leone Reporters Union and UNDP)