WASH and Education


More than half of all primary schools in developing countries have inadequate water facilities and nearly two-thirds lack single-gender bathrooms. Lack of WASH puts everyone’s health and chances of survival at risk – particularly children, who are the most vulnerable.

The Challenge

Each year, children lose 443 million school days because of water related illnesses,[1] of which 272 million are lost due to diarrhea alone.[2] More than 40 percent of diarrhea cases in schoolchildren result from transmission in schools rather than homes.[3] Malnutrition and repeated episodes of diarrhea during childhood caused by WASH-related diseases can impair physical growth and cognitive function throughout life.[4] As a result, children that live long enough to attend school often start off at a disadvantage. Moreover, women and children are the most likely to bear the economic and educational costs associated with unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. Girls who have reached puberty and female school staff who are menstruating need gender-specific sanitation facilities. Without the privacy afforded by these facilities, students will not use school facilities, resulting in absenteeism 10-20 percent of the time.[5] Women and young girls spend much of their time collecting and transporting water for their families—often over 6 kilometers daily[6]—and finding adequate sanitation.


Investments in WASH in schools have immediate benefits for children’s health and education. Prioritizing the funding and implementation of integrated packages to include WASH interventions in schools and communities are an important part of creating long-term change in infrastructure, health and education systems. Handwashing practiced in facilities such as day-care centers and primary schools reduces cases of diarrhea by 30 percent.[7] For every 10 percent increase in female literacy, there is a decrease of 10 percent in child mortality.[8] By integrating cost-effective and sustainable WASH solutions with education programs, we can dramatically decrease child morbidity while improving access to and effectiveness of education. Implementers must introduce cost-effective, scalable and context-relevant interventions which may include hand-dug wells, harvesting rainwater for drinking purposes, protecting springs, purifying water, building safe latrines, handwashing with soap and integrating hygiene education into curricula. National, regional and local governments must ensure that school WASH is a component of basic education strategies.

For more information, contact Cecilia Snyder, 202-293-4003, csnyder@WASHadvocates.org

[1] UNDP, 2006. Human Development Report; Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR06-complete.pdf.

[2] Hutton, G. & Haller, L., 2004. Evaluation of the Costs and Benefits of Water and Sanitation Improvements at the Global Level. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/wsh0404.pdf.

[3] WHO/UNICEF, 2010. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. http://www.unicef.org/media/media_45481.html

[4] Lorntz, B., et al., 2006. Early Childhood Diarrhea Predicts Impaired School Performance. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 5(6):513-520. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/535807.

[5] IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, 2005. School Sanitation and Hygiene Notes & News May 2005. http://www.irc.nl/page/22824.

[6] United Nations OHCHR/UN-HABITAT/WHO, 2010. The Right to Water Fact Sheet No. 35. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet35en.pdf.

[7] Ejemot-Nwadiaro, R., et al., 2009. Hand washing for preventing diarrhoea (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 1, Article no. CD004265. http://www.thecochranelibrary.com/userfiles/ccoch/file/Water%20safety/CD004265.pdf.

[8] World Bank, 1993. World Development Report: Investing in Health. http://files.dcp2.org/pdf/WorldDevelopmentReport1993.pdf.

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