Schools are poorly equipped to provide healthy and inclusive learning environments for all children – UNICEF, WHO – Low Calorie Diets Tips

Despite a steady decline in the proportion of schools without basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, deep inequalities persist between and within countries, UNICEF and WHO said today. Schoolchildren in least developed countries (LDCs) and in fragile contexts are hardest hit, and new data shows few schools have accessible WASH services.

“Far too many children go to school without safe drinking water, clean toilets and soap to wash their hands – this makes learning difficult,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF director for water, sanitation, hygiene and climate, environment, energy and disaster risk reduction. “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of providing healthy and inclusive learning environments. To protect children’s education, the road to recovery must include equipping schools with the most basic infectious disease control services today and in the future.”

“Access to water, sanitation and hygiene is not only essential for effective infection prevention and control, but also a prerequisite for children’s health, development and well-being,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director, Division for Environment, Climate Change and Health. “Schools should be places where children thrive and not face hardship or infection due to a lack of or poorly maintained basic infrastructure.”

Schools play a crucial role in promoting healthy habits and behaviors, yet many still lack basic WASH services in 2021. According to the latest data from the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP):

  • Globally, 29 percent of schools still lack basic drinking water services, affecting 546 million school children; 28 percent of schools still lack basic sanitation, affecting 539 million schoolchildren; and 42 percent of schools still lack basic hygiene services, affecting 802 million schoolchildren.
  • A third of the children without basic services at their school live in LDCs and more than half live in fragile contexts.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania are the only two regions where coverage of basic sanitation and hygiene services in schools remains below 50 percent; Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where the basic supply of drinking water in schools is below 50 percent.
  • Achieving universal coverage in schools worldwide by 2030 will require a 14-fold increase in current rates of progress in basic drinking water, a three-fold increase in rates of progress in basic sanitation, and a five-fold increase in basic hygiene services.
  • In LDCs and fragile contexts, achieving universal coverage of basic sanitation in schools by 2030 would require over 100-fold and 50-fold increases in current progress rates, respectively.

Improving pandemic preparedness and response requires more frequent monitoring of WASH and other elements of infection prevention and control (IPC) in schools, including cleaning, disinfection and solid waste disposal.

Providing accessible WASH services in schools is key to inclusive learning for all children. However, only a limited number of countries report this indicator and national definitions vary, and far fewer offer accessible WASH.

  • New national data shows that WASH accessibility coverage is low and varies widely between school levels and urban and rural locations, with schools having accessible drinking water rather than accessible sanitation or hygiene.
  • In half of the countries with available data, fewer than a quarter of schools had accessible toilets. For example, in Yemen, 8 out of 10 schools had toilets, but only 1 out of 50 schools had accessible toilets.
  • In most of the countries with data, schools had adapted infrastructure and materials – like ramps, assistive technology, learning materials – rather than accessible toilets. For example, in El Salvador, 2 out of 5 schools have adapted infrastructure and materials, but only 1 out of 20 has adapted toilets.

Notes for editors:

Read the WHO/UNICEF JMP 2022 Data Update on WASH in Schools and download the data here.

Read more about the WHO/UNICEF JMP here.

Download multimedia content here.


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Dedicated to the well-being of all people and guided by science, the World Health Organization leads and champions global efforts to give everyone, everywhere, an equal chance at a safe and healthy life. We are the UN health agency, connecting nations, partners and people on the frontlines in more than 150 locations – and leading the global response to health emergencies, preventing disease, tackling the root causes of health problems and expanding access to medicines and healthcare. Our mission is to promote health, protect the world and serve the vulnerable.

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