written by Alice Pidgeon
Safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home should not be a privilege… These are some of the most basic requirements for human health, and all countries have a responsibility to ensure that everyone can access them.– Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)
The basic principles of WASH, along with busy lifestyles can mean that people become immune to remembering the importance of what, when and why of WASH. Humans need water to survive, hygiene to be healthy, and sanitation to live in safe environments. WASH is the acronym for Water And Sanitation Hygiene created by UNICEF. It’s the catchy reminder that clean hands, hygienic habits and uncontaminated environments are key to maintaining a healthy life and wellbeing. The message of WASH is sharp and clear; clean water for consumption, the presence of sanitation facilities, and the availability of soap and water for handwashing are all needed. While it may sound like a simple message, it can often be forgotten or difficult to achieve as the facilities needed aren’t available. Despite Indonesia having positive economic growth in recent years, it is not uncommon for citizens to still suffer from poor access to safe water and sanitation.
New evidence from the World Bank’s report on WASH in Indonesia shows that owning a toilet, drinking clean water, and living in a community where most of one’s neighbours own a toilet are important drivers of child growth and cognitive development in Indonesia. Unequal access to these services can stunt a child’s growth with impairment to their development, learning and earning. UNICEF reports that stunting odds are 1.4X greater for children in Indonesia without improved sanitation. This causes intergenerational factors that can lead to greater future problems. To level the playing field, children need to be educated on the importance of WASH to lead healthier lives and enhance their wellbeing.
Project Child works with three communities in Yogyakarta in their Sekolah Sungai (river school) program to empower the children to be the agents of change using project based learning. They become positive influences in their communities, working together towards alleviating the incidences and burdens from poor water, sanitation and hygiene they may experience through finding solutions and making improvements. The lessons of WASH translate into life based skills that can help to the children to become healthy citizens physically, mentally and socially. Project Child educates the children based on the three components of WASH including water, sanitation and hygiene;
Water is needed to survive, but if it isn’t safe to drink and use it isn’t helping to survive. Water can be become the problem when it is ‘dirty water’, referring to it being contaminated, unsafe, or if there is an inadequate supply. Contamination can occur at the source (such as rivers or wells), during transportation (being carried in a dirty bucket), or at the time of consumption (dirty hands touching the water). To make water safe, treatment and storage methods can be tailored to meet local needs allowing people access to clean water.
Sanitation refers to safely collecting, treating and disposing of human waste. This includes basic sanitation facilities such as toilets, latrines and stopping open defecation in spaces such as waterways and streets. A lack of sanitation can cause serious health risks from faecal waste making its way into the environment as very serious health risks including diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery can be transmitted. Sanitation also addresses safety issues and undermines feelings of self-dignity, particularly for women and children. When nature calls, a safe place is needed to answer. Proper sanitation that is separated from other people coming into contact with the waste. Infections are prevented and lives are saved.
Hygiene is primarily about health and the actions that are taken to ensure cleanliness of people, homes, schools, communities and other people. One of the most simple and effective means for hygiene is handwashing with soap to prevent the transmission of bacteria and viruses. Just because germs cannot be seen, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. With contaminated hands being one of the main ways diarrhoea is spread, it’s critical to educate children and caregivers on the importance of hand washing.
While the three components of WASH can be looked at separately, the success of them cannot be reached without understanding how they all connect. Essentially one cannot be realised without the others; and without the others, heavy burdens can be placed on individuals and communities, particularly children. For example, despite clean water being used to prepare food, if the person preparing the food hasn’t washed their hands the food can become contaminated with bacteria making the people eating it sick. Or, open defecation leaves excreta where children are playing, and then children bring it into the households. The connection between the three components of WASH also exemplifies the connection for how meaningful progress on the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) cannot be achieved without an inter-sectoral approach to Goal 3 (good health and wellbeing) and Goal 13 (climate action). Poor WASH heightens health risks that will be further exacerbated by climate change as natural disasters become more prevalent increasing the risk of food and water borne diseases. These are further reinforced by achieving the other SDGs including education, energy, nutrition and ending poverty.
Health is a prerequisite for everything to flourish; an opportunity every child deserves. Poor water, sanitation and hygiene should not be the barrier that prevents Indonesian children, and children around the world from developing, learning and earning. WASH underpins poverty reduction, economic growth and healthy ecosystems by contributing to social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods. Project Child works collectively in their sekolah sungai program, recognising and educating that WASH is a prerequisite for the children and their communities to flourish healthily and maintain their wellbeing.