One in three schools around the world have no clean water or toilets

4 min read

WaterAid has released new photos providing a snapshot of classrooms across the world to highlight the fact that one in three schools have no clean water or toilets, having a detrimental impact on education.

Furthermore, around 263 million children aged between 6 and 17 will not be going to school at all, with a lack of access to water and decent sanitation being an obstacle for many.

From Uganda to Cambodia and Timor-Leste, the images reveal the similarities in school life across the globe as well as the stark differences and inequalities that exist in facilities and opportunities for the students. 

Also featured in the collection are stories of children who are unable to go to school because of the time they have to spend collecting water or because there is nowhere for them to go to the toilet.

The gallery is part of WaterAid’s global campaign, The Water Fight, to make clean water and decent toilets normal for every child and every school everywhere by 2030. 

Children in school in Pakistan

Zakir is 10 and his school in Pakistan has no access to water or toilets. He said:

“When we need the toilet, we go to the jungle. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk there. Our clothes and shoes get dirty, so we sometimes have to go home to change our clothes. It’s not right; we should have proper toilets in our school.”

Girls often skip school when they start their period, or drop out altogether, if there are no decent toilets or space to wash themselves and stay clean and healthy. A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle.

Keeping teachers in schools is also an issue when there are no clean water or sanitation facilities.


Children in school in Malawi
Image: © Dennis Lupenga

Tryness Msowoya, 26, a school teacher at Kambira Primary School in Malawi, said:

“To collect water, we used to wake up around 3am. This impacted on our ability to teach well as we were tired. Also, we used to have a lot of diarrhoea cases, especially amongst our young pupils. Teachers left for another school but I told myself to stay a little longer. The first time I got a bucket of clean water from the new borehole, my life changed for the better.” 

One in ten children have no clean water at home, and girls in particular spend hours walking to collect water, leaving little time for education, keeping them trapped in poverty and stopping them reaching their potential.

Maritha in front of her pumpkins in Malawi

Maritha, 15, from Zambia, said:

“I go to school as often as I can, but sometimes I miss it for two weeks continuously as I spend a lot of time collecting water and harvesting crops. School is important because, with education one stands a better chance of finding a job and living well in the future. If I don’t stay in school, I am likely to be married off.”

Drinking dirty water causes sickness, which can be deadly, with 289,000 children under five dying each year due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation; that's 800 a day. Even if children recover, they still miss valuable school-time. It has been estimated that up to 443 million school days a year are lost due to water-related illnesses (Human Development Report, 2006).

Rosie Wheen, WaterAid Australia Chief Executive, said:

“Children all over the world have dreams about what they’ll be when they grow up; but not every child has the opportunity to make it happen. One in ten children lack access to clean water at home while one in three have nowhere safe to go to the toilet, and sadly this doesn’t end when they go to school. The lack of these basic necessities exposes millions of children to deadly diseases as well as negatively impacting on their education and denying them a happy, dignified childhood. 

“Water, sanitation and hygiene form the foundations to a healthy, prosperous life. WaterAid is working towards a world where all children have access to clean water and decent toilets at home and at schools to ensure everyone has the chance to realise their dreams.”

Sokea and other students in class in Cambodia

Sokea, 12, from Cambodia, said:

“I like it now we have new floating toilets at our school. They are easy to use, hygienic, and help protect the environment by keeping the lake clean. We learned why it’s important to wash our hands, and together we buy soap for the school to stay healthy.”

Schoolgirls in front of the toilet block in Timor-Leste

School coordinator from Timor-Leste, said:

“Previously there were no toilets so students ran out to forest to urinate and defecate there. Now the students are happy because WaterAid fixed their toilet.” 

School girls queuing up in India
Image: © WaterAid/2017/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Rasika, 9, from India, said:

“Without water at school, I feel very thirsty and I find it very difficult to concentrate. I am not able to go to the toilet at school so I have to hold it for the whole day.”

Children sitting in the dirt in class in Mozambique

Hagira, 15, from Mozambique, said:

“At school, there is no toilet we can use. When I have to go to the toilet, I go home and miss class.” 

Robinah and her students in Uganda

Robinah, 45, from Uganda, said:

“I’m proud seeing my pupils becoming good ambassadors for sanitation and personal hygiene. Education changes the perception that girls are less able or less bright as compared to boys. I have seen some of the girls I have taught in the past becoming nurses, medical doctors, engineers, lawyers and mechanics.”