The Impact of Water and Sanitation Challenges on Education

South Africa, among others, remains a water-scarce country and is still facing a major challenge in the delivery of clean water and sanitation services to all sectors of society. This is caused by insufficient water infrastructure maintenance and investment, recurring drought, inequities in access to water and sanitation, deteriorating water quality, and a lack of skilled professionals in the water and sanitation sector. The supply of quality drinking water and access to proper sanitation facilities in all communities is essential for human health and well-being, economic development, education and the realisation of the constitutional rights of all citizens. 

Having access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation is a basic human right. The same goes for education. Every child has the right to a quality education, which includes access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities at school. As children spend a significant portion of their daily lives at school, or it should be the goal, having access to clean water and sanitation is of vital importance. Without adequate sanitation and access to safe drinking water, these factors can be a detriment to a child's education as they can negatively impact their ability to learn, as well as their health and dignity, particularly for young girls. 

The effects of lack of water and sanitation on education

Unfortunately, widespread education is not a current reality in many areas within developing countries. One of the major challenges these areas face when trying to improve education within these communities is the lack of proper water and sanitation facilities. In underprivileged, water-scarce areas, many students are unable to complete their education because of the lack of water and toilets supplied in schools. 

The effects of lack of water on education 

The lack of available clean water has serious negative effects on students' academic performance and attendance rates. This is due to the fact that without access to clean drinking water, students fail to stay healthy due to water-borne diseases, fail to hold their concentration for long periods of time due to dehydration and fail to maintain proper hygiene standards due to a lack of clean water. On top of that, schools cannot run programs if they cannot provide water to students, faculty and their families. This further impacts the education system as it limits opportunities for growth and development. 

The effects of lack of sanitation facilities on education  

When it comes to the access to proper sanitation in the educational sector, it's not just about the school's sanitation facilities but also the community's sanitation facilities, or lack thereof. Students in underprivileged and water-scarce areas are constantly exposed to high levels of coliform on their way to school due to open defecation on the roads. Failing to offer potable water causes many negative effects within the school, such as:

  • Teachers becoming ill due to water-borne diseases and having to cancel classes and excursions
  • Students falling behind in academics when struck by preventable illnesses
  • Girls reaching puberty leave school due to lack of sanitation and feelings of embarrassment as they have no access to clean water to maintain good hygiene 
  • Students avoid the use of the toilet due to a lack of sanitation and privacy, which results in a higher risk of associated continence-related issues such as urinary tract infections
  • Improper sanitation prevents efficient and frequent attendance at school.

Diseases such as diarrhoea are primarily transmitted in school, and in order to prevent the spread, access to clean water is of vital importance. In order to promote education in underprivileged areas, a focus must be placed on ensuring all schools have access to potable water and proper sanitation to prevent the spread of disease and to promote hygiene education. 

How to overcome the negative impacts of water and sanitation challenges on education 

The condition of water infrastructure plays an important role in a country’s economic development and growth, and in order to overcome the negative impacts of the water and sanitation challenges on education, sufficient water infrastructures need to be built. After all, a country is nothing without access to proper education. Without sufficient water infrastructures in place, the living conditions of the citizens are heavily impacted, and the education system will continue to struggle to not only keep students enrolled but to give students the education they deserve. 

One way to overcome the water and sanitation challenges in education is to invest in water reuse for infrastructure in underprivileged communities. This will help solve the negative impacts that a lack of clean water and sanitation has on both the education sector and communities alike. 

Final words

Improving water access and sanitation facilities at schools wards off diseases associated with consuming contaminated water and promotes continued education. Having access to proper bathrooms and clean drinking water can alter the enrollment and dropout rates of schools which in turn will help improve the economy by having an educated population which will lead to better economic development in the future.