For progress on SDG 4, we must integrate action on education and water, sanitation and hygiene

5 min read
"This all the children in the school I am attending." Amadou Kokoyeh (Bush chicken), 8, Tombohuaun, Sierra Leone
Image: WaterAid/ Kokoyeh

This week, Sierra Leone will report on its progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education. Patrick Cheah, WaterAid Sierra Leone’s Country Director, argues the case for integrated action on SDG4 and SDG 6 on water and sanitation.

At WaterAid Sierra Leone we are very excited. A high point of the annual High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is the Voluntary National Reviews (VNR), a part of the follow-up on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in which countries regularly review their progress towards achieving the SDGs at national and sub-national levels. And this year our Government will be one of those reporting, for the second time since the process began in 2015.

We contributed to the consultations and engagements that led to preparation of Sierra Leone’s VNR, a major part of which was our participation, with Government representatives, in the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in April. But we aren’t just excited because we were involved.

Two reasons why we are particularly excited about this year’s HLPF and VNR

1. The Sierra Leone Government recently launched its Medium Term National Development Plan 2019–2023, titled ‘Education for Development’, with Free Quality Education for all as it flagship policy.

2. SDG 4 – on quality education – is one of the six goals that countries participating in the VNR will review this year.

Although WaterAid’s focus is water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), as an INGO working in-country, we are obliged to hold the Government accountable for putting this important education policy declaration into action. But in particular, as a partner we will work with the Government to support the policy’s successful implementation from a WASH perspective.

The development plan is a major undertaking, and the Government has pledged 21% of the country’s annual GDP towards its implementation. We applaud this but remain watchful as we foresee the enormous demands that increased enrolment will put on WASH services in schools throughout the country.

Promising plans for education depend on action on WASH

Schools in Sierra Leone face grossly inadequate WASH facilities, as found by the annual Sector Performance Review in December 2018. The report revealed that only 56% of the country’s schools have access to improved water and 40% to basic sanitation, and that just 17% have access to handwashing facilities – a meagre 10% having access to menstrual hygiene services.

56% of schools have access to improved water
40% have access to basic sanitation
17% have access to handwashing facilities – 10% have menstrual hygiene services

Action on SDG 4 and SDG 6 must be integrated

As a development partner, we believe strongly that, if WASH conditions in schools are not improved, the outcome of the free education plan will be dismal at best, come the end of 2023. A school without WASH facilities is not a school, and SDG 4 and SDG 6 are closely connected – we will not achieve SDG 4 without success in SDG 6.

Our primary role is therefore to work with the Government to support the plan by linking action on SDG 4 with action on SDG 6. In WaterAid’s new policy brief, we outline the deep connections between the two goals, and recommend how governments and partners can ensure success by tackling them together, including case studies from our work. When fully integrated, efforts towards these goals will lead to healthy learning environments and increase retention of students.

Facilities should include every age, gender and ability

We will go a step further – to ensure the Government’s plan addresses equity and equality as enshrined in our human rights-based approach to WASH, including meeting the needs of students with disabilities.

An accessible school latrine block, built by WaterAid, in Longebu, Pujehun District, Sierra Leone.
An accessible school latrine block, built by WaterAid, in Longebu, Pujehun District, Sierra Leone.
Image: WaterAid/Patrick Musa

Another role will be to showcase what fully inclusive WASH facilities in a school environment should include: ramps, handrails, adequate space, gender-segregated access, lockable doors and facilities catering for menstrual and other hygiene management needs. Our WASH in schools interventions in rural Sierra Leone include these features (as shown above), and are being used as empirical evidence to demonstrate a holistic WASH approach.

We are also working with the Government as it reviews its policies to accelerate access to improved WASH in schools, and will continue to work alongside the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education to review guidelines for WASH in schools.

Key recommendations for success on education and WASH

HLPF 2019 presents an important opportunity for Sierra Leone, and for all states presenting their VNRs, to build integration between and momentum around the SDGs – especially those reviewed this year – to boost progress towards Agenda 2030.

As we prepare for the meeting, we have four key recommendations for governments, donors and development partners:

1. Education and finance ministers and donors must recognise the fundamental importance of WASH in schools to improving education. Investment in these essential services must be scaled up in line with credible plans for achieving universal access by 2030 at the absolute latest.

2. School sanitation must meet the specific needs of women and girls.

3. Facilities must be inclusive and age-appropriate, and interventions should also consider young people outside traditional schooling, such as people with intellectual impairments.

4. Cross-sectoral integration and coordination must be increased, encouraging collaboration between WASH, health and education sectors to design and implement policies and programmes that fulfil the human rights of all.

At the HLPF, we are looking forward to hearing the Government of Sierra Leone pledge commitment to these recommendations, reaffirming committed resources to achieving all 17 Goals of Agenda 2030.

Patrick Cheah is Country Director of WaterAid Sierra Leone.

Read the recommendations in full in our policy brief on the links between SDG 4 and SDG 6 >

Follow our activity at HLPF on Twitter @wateraid and keep up to date with our delegation via their diary blog >