Domestos uncovers not-so-secret shame of thousands of state schools with pit latrines
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Tens of thousands of pupils in state schools are being deprived of their fundamental human right to water and sanitation.
South Africa’s protracted schools sanitation crisis, which comes with an estimated R10-billion price tag to eradicate pit latrines, has prompted a call to action to corporates, non-government organisations and ordinary citizens to help restore the dignity of the country’s most disadvantaged learners.
Issuing the challenge on World Toilet Day on November 19, Unilever and its brand Domestos turned the spotlight on the country’s not-so-secret shame of the thousands of state schools are still being deprived of their fundamental human rights.
“If there is any hope of realising the government’s target of eliminating pit latrines at the country’s schools by March 2022, only about 16 months from now, we are all going to have to step up our efforts,” says Henry Muchauraya, marketing director, home and hygiene at Unilever.
In August 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) plan to eradicate these pit latrines across all schools in the following two years. During the State of the Nation Address in 2019, he reaffirmed the commitment, but increased the implementation period by a further year.
At the time, the SA Human Rights Commission commented that the responsibility for raising the requisite R10 billion for the roll-out, which the government said it hoped to raise with the assistance of the private sector, might rightly lie with business.
While the Commission was adamant than an unequivocal commitment from government was needed, it suggested recourse to the private sector may be justified, “given the role business must play in positively impacting society”.
Domestos not only partnered with the department of basic education to deliver hygiene education to millions of primary school learners via the national schools’ hygiene and sanitation programme, but also raised R500 000 through sales on World Toilet Day 2019 to build new toilet facilities in a school. This year, Domestos has already funded new toilet facilities at five Eastern Cape schools, with toilets at two KwaZulu-Natal schools set for completion by the end of next month.
“In 2018, we also launched a school janitor programme, equipping janitors with training, uniforms and cleaning equipment and products to help them keep toilet facilities hygienic in numerous schools across South Africa,” Muchauraya adds.
Sanitation is absolutely critical to children, from an educational and health perspective, which is why the eradication of pit latrines is, and must remain, a top priority for everyone in South Africa. Three of the four main reasons learners fail to attend school are sanitation related – these include intestinal worms, upper respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea, he said.
Records show four children have died in school pit latrines in South Africa since 2014. The two who drowned in separate incidents in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo were five-year-olds Lumka Mkhethwa and Michael Komape. Two other children died when the walls surrounding the makeshift toilets collapsed on them.
Out of almost 25 000 schools nationwide, the almost 4 000 schools with pit latrines are primarily in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. Sixty-one schools in the Eastern Cape have no toilets, and 1 585 have pit latrines, while 1 379 pit latrines remain in use at KwaZulu-Natal schools.
The health risks are evidenced in World Health Organization statistics that show that more than 800 000 people in low- and middle-income countries die annually as a result of inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene. Poor sanitation is believed to be the main cause of more than half of these deaths.
Muchauraya appeals to company heads across to join forces to drive the realisation of universal access to safe sanitation and clean drinking water: “Businesses that positively impact the people that they serve are sustainable.”