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COVID-19: Prioritising WASH Services In Preparation For Return To Schools

GENEVA, Switzerland

More than 60 Percent of the world’s school-age children have been, or are, affected by ongoing school closures, with most having missed out on at least one term of learning, says a new report by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, which assessed water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) readiness of schools in UNHCR-supported refugee camps and settlements.

Researchers say this situation risks reversing many of the gains made in refugees’ access to education and in the quality of their learning outcomes.

“WASH services are more essential than ever to support infection prevention and control, but they are also critical to ensure a safe environment for the return to schools,” the report's authors state.

“The survey results were used to identify the most critical gaps in services and resources have been immediately mobilised to address these gaps.”

Globally, say researchers, it is estimated that three billion people lack soap and water at home to practice good hand hygiene.

In addition, some 40 Percent of healthcare facilities are not equipped with handwashing stations, and 58 Percent of secondary schools, and 56 Percent of primary schools, had basic hygiene services.

UNHCR and partners are using the results to improve WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) COVID-19 mitigation measures in schools and allow them to operate safely.

The researchers say that additional financial resources and longer-term planning will be needed to address the considerable gaps in water supply and sanitation services which includes constructing or rehabilitating water supply systems and building 14,000 toilets for nearly 200 schools.