More Than 42,000 Schools in India Have No Drinkable Water: Education Ministry
More than 42,000 government schools across the country don’t have drinking water facilities, while more than 15,000 schools have no toilets, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said on Thursday. The minister quoted the statistics from the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) database in response to a written question in the Rajya Sabha.
“States and UTs have been repeatedly advised to ensure that all the schools, including those under the non-government sector (private, aided schools, etc.) in their jurisdiction should have provision for separate toilets for boys and girls and safe and adequate drinking water facilities for all children,” added the minister in a response to a query. The data comes at a time when sanitation, hygiene, and health are the utmost priority. Many schools across the country have reopened after a yearlong shutdown due to the Covid19 pandemic, and reopening safety protocols require routine handwashing and proper sanitation.
The Centre’s department of school education and literacy had launched a scheme, Samagra Shiksha, in 2018-19 to strengthen water and sanitation infrastructure in government schools. The jal shakti ministry — which was created in 2019 by combining the former Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation with the former Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, also launched a 100-day campaign last year for 100% of government schools and anganwadis to have potable tap water supply and tap water in toilets.
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But despite the scheme and the campaign, only half of government schools and anganwadis have a tap water supply (though schools without tap water may have other water supplies, like wells). As of February 15, only 48.5% of anganwadis and 53.3% of schools had a tap water supply, reported The Hindu. Moreover, less than 8% of schools in Uttar Pradesh and 11% in West Bengal have it, while it is available in only 2-6% of anganwadis in Assam, Jharkhand, U.P., Chhattisgarh, and Bengal.
This problem extends beyond water supply and to toilet facilities as well. Data from 2018 found that students in India had access to toilets in only 73%of Indian schools. But a report from 2019 found out that in the schools that had toilets built, 22.8% of them were unusable. In addition, 11.5% of rural schools had no separate toilets for girls; and in some of the schools that did, 10.5% of them were locked and 11.7% were locked and unusable.
Another study from a year later confirmed the 2019 findings. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2020 found more than half of the government school toilets built by central public sector enterprises did not have even the basic hand-washing facility — an even greater necessity in the pandemic. Schools across the country still faced a lack of running water, poor maintenance, and the unavailability of separate toilets for girls. Handwashing facilities were not available in 55% of the toilets, 72% of them did not have running water.
The provision of water at schools is one of the most “highly effective practices in increasing access and learning outcomes,” says UNICEF. Not only is it necessary to maintain personal and environmental hygiene, but also reducing student dehydration in schools has been associated with improved cognitive abilities.
The lack of proper toilets in schools threatens the education of thousands who are at risk of getting sick due to poor hygiene, and subsequently missing school. Globally, lack of school toilets puts 620 million children in danger of diarrhea. This problem is amplified for girls, many of whom miss school monthly when they’re menstruating because of a dearth of sanitation facilities — in India, 23 million girls drop out of school when they start menstruating. Moreover, “children are more susceptible to water-borne diseases, more so, when there is also a need for repeated washing of hands as a precautionary measure during the pandemic,” said the parliamentary panel overseeing the 100-day campaign on increasing access to tap water.
This problem is amplified for slum residents as 60% of them have a shared source of water and nearly 40% do not have access to a toilet in their house. Students who from these areas then, often end up relying on water facilities and toilets in school. It then becomes the utmost responsibility of the government to ensure that at least these basic human needs are being met.
The government’s Samagra Shiksha scheme also provides for an annual recurring composite school grant of up to Rs. 1 lakh, but there are several inconsistencies in the implementation of the scheme and a study found that the Centre had released only 57% of the funds allocated.
The Parliamentary panel also directed the Centre to take hasty measures to set up water purification or reverse osmosis (RO) plants in schools. “Considering the health hazards in the children on account of lack of potable drinking water, the Committee urges the Department to take up the matter with those States which are lagging in providing drinking water and toilet facilities in their schools and anganwadi centers,” it said.