On 26 February, Papua New Guinea was struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake – the first of several major quakes and more than 100 tremors to shake the country within weeks. The earthquakes caused devastating landslides and widespread destruction across the four provinces of Hela, Southern Highlands, Western Province and Enga. Families lost their homes, water sources, health facilities and the gardens they relied on for food.
UNICEF worked with partners and the Papua New Guinea Government to stop the emergency from spiraling into a deeper disaster for children. Teams delivered vaccines, water purification tablets, hygiene kits and basic sanitation to prevent outbreaks of disease. Micronutrients and ready-to-use therapeutic food was provided to help children recover from severe acute malnutrition. And child-friendly spaces were supported where children got psychosocial support to cope with the trauma of losing their homes and family members.
Eleven-year-old, Ryan Kalowa is a grade four student and attends Kumin Primary School in Mendi, Southern Highlands Province. Ryan’s school was closed for one week following the earthquake. After the first week, all students at the school were sent home at 1pm each day because the toilets were badly damaged in the earthquake.
Within two months, UNICEF was able to rehabilitate and build new toilet and washing facilities in 22 schools across Southern Highlands Province, including rain water collection systems, basic pit latrines and hygiene training including key messages on menstrual hygiene management.
UNICEF installed two prefabricated toilets for the students and also provided hygiene training to teachers and students at Kumin Primary School. Ryan is now happy to see the return of clean, safe drinking water at his school in Mendi.
When schools have safe water, toilets and soap for handwashing, children have a healthy learning environment, and girls are more likely to attend when they are on their period. Beyond the schoolyard, children who learn safe water, sanitation and hygiene habits at school can reinforce positive life-long behaviours in their homes and their communities. However, millions of children go to school every day in unsafe learning environments, with no drinking water, no proper toilets, and no soap for washing their hands.
The latest global assessment from UNICEF and WHO, Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools: 2018 Global Baseline Report, establishes global, regional and national level estimates of progress towards Sustainable Development Goal targets for both WASH (SDG6) and education (SDG4).
“If education is the key to helping children escape poverty, access to water and sanitation is key to helping children safely maximize their education. To neglect this is to be careless with the wellbeing and health of children,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, Global Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF. “However,” she added, “we face the uphill battle of ensuring funds are prioritised to install and maintain basic water, sanitation and hygiene services in all schools.”
Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools: 2018 Global Baseline Report was produced by the WHO/UNICEF JMP — the custodian of global data on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The JMP has been monitoring global progress since 1990 and is responsible for reporting on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets and indicators related to WASH.