The world marked International Toilet Day on November 19. It was an occasion to reflect on the state of dignified living and work for everyone.
Here in Kenya, the cry was as it has been for so many years: let us do more to give our children, and citizens in general, better sanitation served by sufficient water and maintained to a high hygiene standard.
The reality is that we are making very slow progress towards achieving meaningful availability of proper sanitation facilities, a situation that is probably more pronounced in schools. Schools, particularly at primary level, have a total population close to 11 million children.
Less than a fifth of them have adequate access to proper sanitation, leaving at least 8 million children highly exposed not just to indecent ablution facilities, but also communicable diseases.
The Ministry of Education and the various Boards of Management are in charge or running schools and ensuring that students have access to the required learning. Indeed, the ministry, in partnership with the Church World Service, even developed the Safety Standards Manual for Schools in Kenya, which outlines the guidelines for sanitation.
According to the document, school pit latrines should be built at least 10 metres away from tuition and boarding facilities, and on the downwind side, and at least 15 metres away from a water supply point. They should not be less than six metres deep and should be regularly disinfected. Where an ablution block is attached to the dormitory, a high degree of cleanliness must be maintained.
In mixed schools, girls’ sanitation areas must be separate and offer complete privacy. Each school should ensure safe and effective disposal of sanitary wear.
Regarding construction, the following must be observed: there should be four closets (latrines) for the first 30 learners; one extra closet for every 30 learners thereafter for the next 270 learners, and one closet per 50 learners over the 270.
All closets must be clean, well-ventilated and properly maintained. At least one third of the fittings for boys should be closets and the rest urinals. Appropriate provisions should be given to learners with special needs and very young learners in pre-unit and lower primary. Proper consideration should be given for staff sanitation, with at least one closet for 12 persons.
But this manual is hardly, if ever, followed, as we discovered when Unilever Kenya was preparing the Cleaner Toilets, Better Futures programme.
While it may appear that this is a simple task, the school administration and cleaners charged with the toilet maintenance face an uphill task. In most cases, the toilets are too few, leading to congestion. In many instances we found that the cleaners lacked sufficient toilet cleaning aids, including water.
The result is that primary school-going children are at risk of contracting diseases. Clearly, the Ministry of Education is overwhelmed. Head teachers are reaching out to community leaders, parents and well-wishers to improve their lot. Private firms are forming partnerships with local schools to give children a dignified learning environment and keep them healthy and in school. We all need to pull in the same direction together.
The Ministry of Education needs to see to it that the sanitation guidelines in the safety manual are adhered to. But to do so, the government must put its money where the mouth on this manual is. It appears that there are none, or insufficient funds allocated for this part of the learning facilities. And if the Ministry of Water and Sanitation is expected to take up the role, then it needs to be explicit.
The writer is the Homecare Director at Unilever Kenya.