Pit latrines and lack of access to drinking water at school …

The South African government has declared the first Saturday in November National Children’s Day. It is important to draw attention to the challenges our children face, especially considering article 28 of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution which states that “every child has the right to basic nutrition, to housing, health care and social services, and the right to be protected from mistreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation ”. We can also add the right to basic education as stipulated in article 29.

Although the government has made progress in providing relevant, effective, responsive, inclusive and sustainable teaching and learning since 1994, there are still serious gaps, especially in the infrastructure of many public schools.

In my reflection on the children in commemoration of the aforementioned day, I would like to focus on the over a million learners in our schools who still use pit latrines, and the nearly 150,000 children who are in schools with pit latrines. no water.

During the second quarter of 2021, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) requested reports on water and sanitation in schools from each of the provincial departments of education (PDE).

In particular, the Committee requested information on the types and sources of sanitation in these schools. According to the SAHRC, responses were received from 16,921 schools in the nine provinces. Reports received from all provinces represent 74% of all schools in South Africa.

While I was reading this July 2021 Report, I was shocked to see how many schools do not have sanitation facilities and how many schools, staff and learners still use pit latrines as their primary form of ablution facilities.

Gauteng, North West and KwaZulu-Natal only reported on schools that have historically had water and sanitation problems. The Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Western Cape provided information on all public schools in their provinces.

In the Eastern Cape, almost half (44%) of schools still use pit latrines as their main ablution facility. 31% use ventilated pit latrines, while 199 schools in the province have no sanitation facilities at school. Add to that the 121 schools without any water supply, and it becomes clear how dire the situation is for the 717,192 students and 27,711 teachers in these schools.

In the Free State, 10 schools have no water and five of these schools have no sanitation facilities. Seventy-seven percent of schools in the province are served by their respective municipalities with water; 1% have access to Enviro-loos – which are waterless systems that operate by organic decomposition and dehydration, providing a safe and non-polluting solution for sanitation; 15% to septic tanks; and 6% to ventilated improved pit latrines.

In Gauteng, 223 schools have water and sanitation problems. These schools are mainly served by portable water tankers, and they use septic tanks and chemical toilets for ablution.

In KwaZulu-Natal, 79% of schools depend mainly on pit latrines and ventilated pit latrines for ablution. This concerns 383,677 learners and 9,609 teachers.

In Limpopo, 78% of schools said boreholes are their main source of drinking water with 127 schools either without water or relying on pit toilets, affecting 49,922 students and 1,329 teachers.

In Mpumalanga, 29,529 learners and 885 teachers are in schools that have no water or that rely mainly on pit toilets.

In the Northern Cape, 55% of schools depend on flush toilets for their sanitation needs, while other schools use septic tanks (33%), Enviro-loos (8%) and improved ventilated pit latrines (4%). In schools where these Enviro-loos were not maintained by the respective education departments, schools were forced to return to pit toilets again.

In the northwest, 29,407 learners and 985 teachers are in schools that have no water or rely mainly on pit toilets, while in the Western Cape there are no schools without water. water or using a pit latrine.

These statistics imply that there are currently 380 schools in the country without water, affecting 5,331 teachers and 144,436 learners. There are 3,392 other schools still using pit latrines, affecting 34,489 teachers and 1,042,698 learners.

This appalling situation will need to be addressed much more urgently in order to restore and respect the human dignity of these teachers and learners, and to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 6 which envision education, water and sanitation for all.

These pit toilets are not only dangerous to health, but they are also dangerous, degrading and illegal. In addition, South African courts have repeatedly stated that the links between pit toilets and learners’ ability to study should not be discreet.

The state, according to the South African Schools Act (1996), should establish and maintain minimum uniform standards and standards for public school infrastructure that include “adequate water supply” and “readily accessible sanitation facilities. all learners and educators “and” “ensure confidentiality and security, promote health and hygiene standards, comply with all relevant laws and are maintained in Good working condition”.

This should be at the heart of the policy of the Ministry of Basic Education and one of its key priorities.

Referring to schools, Africa Check underline in 2019 that “hundreds of children drowned in pit latrines”, and that “tragic stories of young children falling into pit latrines and drowning in feces” in schools made headlines in our country.

Not even the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (Safe) initiative, launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 to eliminate pit latrines in schools could prevent these tragedies.

In 2020, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said a government infrastructure program provided “sanitation solutions” to 68 schools. Sanitation issues in nearly 1,000 other schools were also addressed by POEs and others. partnerships.

Motshekga added that his department plans to eradicate pit latrines by March 2022, depending on the availability of funding. However, in June 2020, the educational infrastructure budget was cut by R 2 billion due to Covid-19. Julia Chaskalson and Boitumelo Masipa from Section27 underline that “600 million rand has been transferred to the School Infrastructure Backlog Grant (SIBG) to pay for temporary access to water and sanitation in schools” with the SIBG “cut off by an additional 60 million rand”.

On a day like National Children’s Day, the government’s efforts in this regard should be appreciated. But March 2022 is fast approaching. If the Department of Basic Education as well as the PDEs and other relevant government departments fail to keep the minister’s promise in this regard without valid reasons, there should be national outrage to hold them accountable, even if it does. means bringing those responsible to court.

We owe our children an education in a safe and learning environment. DM

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