Monrovia, Liberia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has challenged the newly established National Water Resources and Sanitation Board of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Consortium to begin to formulate policies that government can endorse to integrate the sector.
“When the Board convenes, I challenge you to come up with programs that will meet and direct government on the measures it can take to integrate the sector,” the Liberian leader urged, suggesting that the Board needs to compile information and data on what’s obtaining in the sector, population being served, by what means, where the greatest neglect is and make recommendations on the way forward.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the statement when she officially launched Liberia’s WASH in Schools (WINS) Program at the C.D.B. King Memorial High School on Warren Street in Monrovia on .
The Three Star Approach for WASH in Schools is designed to improve the effectiveness of hygiene behavior change programs. The approach ensures that healthy habits are taught, practiced and integrated into daily school routine. It will also help schools meet the essential criteria for a healthy and protective learning environment for children as part of the broader child-friendly schools initiatives.
Speaking further, the Liberian leader admitted that over the years the WASH sector has been fragmented that government has not been able to respond to the needs of the sector; but disclosed that the WASH sector will receive much more government support through Fiscal Budget 2015/2016.
She, however, noted that with increased budget support the needs of the sector should be translated into actions that both government and partners can agree will bring the best results. “Let’s all now partner together in that respect,” she admonished.
The Liberian leader was responding to a request made by the representative of the NGO sector on WASH, Mr. Drake Senyange, who in his remarks earlier, appealed to establishment of a single institution under the sector to ensure direction and leadership.
“It is our dream, Madam President, that during your tenure and with the support of other branches of government that we come under this one roof – call it a ministry, directorate of water resources, or water and environment – setting the national standards and policies, managing and regulating water resources, determining priorities for water management and development and monitoring the performance of the sector to ensure that we deliver efficiently and effectively to the communities, schools and children,” Mr. Senyange, who also represented OXFAM and the WASH Consortium said.
He expressed delight that the Liberian leader has named the National Water Resources and Sanitation Board, but reiterated that it needs to be functional under her leadership and guidance. He appealed for a permanent roof where the Board can sit and deliver the resources effectively.
Also in her remarks, President Sirleaf frowned on suggestions that each student should bring their own water bottles or containers to school each day, with the hope that the water will be clean. Rather, she charged all the partners at the launch, starting with the C.D.B. King Memorial School, to donate one poly-tank to each class, beginning with herself; while government will take responsibility to ensure that they are refilled all the time.
She noted that this sends a clear message that until we are sure that we have clean water in the communities, it will be difficult to expect these kids to come to school with water and expect it to be clean.
The Liberian leader commended the partners for all they have done within the sector and encouraged them to ensure the availability of clean water in all the communities across the country as this is the first step to ensuring that Liberia have preventive measures against infection control of any possible reoccurrence of the disease that we faced. “Clean water and sanitation provides that basic first step towards that,” she said urging all to come together will more determination, resources to meet those particular targets.
For her part, the Head of the European Union, Ambassador Tiina Interlmann said investment in education is a noble contribution that one can make to the development of a country. She said that’s why the EU was glad to come in early to assist government reopen schools around the country assisting government fund WASH activities in over 500 schools. She hope that these facilities put in place in the various schools are maintained so that the children can benefit from them not only today but also .
UNICEF’s Representative, Sheldon Yett, disclosed that 55 percent of schools in Liberia do not have access to water supplies; 43 percent do not have access to functional latrines; while 80 percent of schools do not have access to hand washing facilities.
“All of us want all children in Liberia to go to school, stay in school and to learn,” adding that particular attention are placed on girls to stay in school and it’s essential that sanitation facilities are available for girls to stay in school. He looked forward to working with partners and the government to ensure the statistics go up and ensure that all children can go to and stay in school.
Assistant Minister for Curative Services, Dr. Saye Dahn Baawo, representing the Ministry of Health, said his ministry will continue to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure that supplies will always be available for students to wash their hands.
He said the Ministry of Health has in the past collaborated with the Ministry of Education to establish “school health programs” with the aim to go beyond WASH activities but to also include reproductive health, deworming, ensuring that children are screened for hearing or visual problems. “We will continue to emphasize not only WASH activities but other activities to ensure the well-being of the students as they go through their educational sojourn.
He emphasized that with support from partners, UNICEF and the Islamic Development Bank, the Ministries of Health and Education will continue to work closely together to closely monitor WASH activities in schools.
Dr. Baawo disclosed that a recent Knowledge, Attitude, Practice (KAP) assessment conducted with UNICEF shows that 98 percent of 1,100 respondents have changed one or more behavior as a result of the Ebola crisis; 83 percent have changed their behavior in the area of hand washing.
He hoped that Liberians will continue to wash their hands in schools and communities to ensure that we do not only prevent Ebola but other water borne diseases that have plagued us in the past.
He stressed that before the Ebola crisis, Liberia was among six or seven nations on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Four, noting that the country had made significant gains in the area of child survival; but since Ebola struck a lot of things changed especially in the communities, schools and health facilities.
Dr. Baawo indicated that before the reopening of schools, the Ministry of Health recognizing the importance of WASH activities ensured that in order to prevent Ebola in schools, they closely worked with the Ministry of Education to ensure that teachers were trained all around the country. “Today we are pleased with the ongoing collaboration which will continue as we recover from the Ebola crisis,” he said.
For his part, Public Works Minister Gyude Moore promised that his ministry’s focus is to increase access in WASH facilities in schools. He admitted that in rural areas, most schools lack all the basic WASH facilities. He lamented the appalling conditions of WASH facilities even around Monrovia. “These are the places in Monrovia which frightens you when you think about outside Monrovia. We cannot have schools where we send our children to get sick,” he said, adding, “If a school is not keeping up with the WASH conditions, it will be our position to shut that school down until those conditions can be fixed.”
In terms of expanding WASH facilities, Minister Moore promised to work with partners and the Ministries of Health and Education to be slightly more aggressive in terms of their enforcement.