BY LORETTA BRIGIDIA MANELE
ON Tuesday, the National Standards on WASH in schools was launched at Mendana Hotel.
The project was developed by UNICEF in collaboration with Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD), Ministry of Health and Medical Services’ (MHMS), RWASH program and sector stakeholders with support of the New Zealand government.
Guests at the occasion included the likes of Acting Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Manasseh Sogavare, Permanent Secretary of MEHRD, Dr. Jimmy Rodgers, Under Secretary for MHMS, Dr Nemia Bainivalu, Deputy Premier of Guadalcanal Province, Hon Peter Aoraunisaka, UNICEF WASH specialist Ms Mamita Bora Thakkar, Zelalem Taffesse from UNICEF and MEHRD Deputy Secretary, Mr James Bosamata.
Acting Prime Minister, Hon Sogavare in his address stressed that since embarking our journey of WASH (Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene) in schools, the launching is a major step taken given that the national standards were developed to help define the requirements for school WASH facilities and are a set of achievable standards of which each school can progress to attainment over time.
He stated that the standards will be used as primary reference by the Solomon Islands WASH sector, national government, and project donors for standards related to construction of, or rehabilitation of, school WASH facilities.
Hon Sogavare also mentioned that studies have shown that children of mothers who have completed primary education are more likely to survive and be healthy.
He mentioned that the availability of adequate and well maintained toilet facilities with running water are a key requirement to ensure the dignity, safety and privacy of girls particularly during adolescence when they face menstruation.
Education Permanent Secretary, Dr Jimmy Rodgers emphasised that handwashing is not practiced on a regular and sustained basis given that a 2015 survey had depicted that only 14 percent of schools have access to basic water services while only 25 percent have access to basic sanitation services.
The essence of sanitation improvement was also another aspect discussed at the launch by Under Secretary for Health, Dr Nemia Bainivalu.
He voiced that sanitation improvements are vital in regards to the cause of a subclinical gut condition called environmental enteropathy (EE).
“Sanitation improvements are vital since constant exposure to fecal contamination is the primary underlying cause of a subclinical gut condition called environmental enteropathy (EE) which prevents proper food absorption and hence results in chronic malnutrition.
“Chronic malnutrition leads to stunting, reduced brain function and chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and renal malfunctions in adulthood,” said Bainivalu.
He stated that the Pacific Region is rated the highest in the prevalence of childhood chronic malnutrition (stunting) and is also the only region where this figure is increasing.
“In the Solomon Islands, the number of malnourished children almost doubled from 1989 to 2015, the current rate is 32 percent, and villages with more OD have more severe stunting in children. Sanitation is vital for better education, economic improvement, cleaner environments and better quality of life. It also protects girl’s and women’s safety and protects dignity,” said Bainivalu.
UNICEF WASH specialist, Ms Mamita Bora Thakkar was the Master of Ceremony who also delivered a presentation on the WASH in schools standards.
She highlighted that WASH in schools contribute to the achievement of five key SDGs and noted that the national standards set the framework for school WASH improvements and lays down the principles of water, sanitation and hygiene.
“Schools need to make incremental improvements based on the designs and ladders laid down in the standards. School WASH facilities need to be accessible, inclusive and gender friendly,” said Ms Thakkar.