As children around the world go back to school, one in three have no clean water or toilets

4 September 2017
Students in school in Uganda
Image: WaterAid/James Kiyimba

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As children pack their satchels and head back to school, 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.

Featured in the collection are stories of children who are now able to get an education as a result of gaining access to clean water and toilets, as well as those who often miss school or have dropped out because of the time they spend collecting water or because there is nowhere for them to go to the toilet.

From Uganda to the UK, and Canada to Cambodia, 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.

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.

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.

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, 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).

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive at WaterAid, 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.”

WaterAid wants to make clean water and toilets normal for every child and every school everywhere by 2030. Sign the petition at


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For more information, please contact:

Laura Crowley, Senior Media Officer, at [email protected] or +44 (0)207 793 4965, or Suzy Vickers, PR manager, [email protected] or +44 (0)207 793 4995. Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected].

In the US: Emily Haile, Senior Communications Manager, [email protected]

In Delhi: Pragya Gupta, Media Officer, [email protected]

In Ottawa: Christine LaRocque, Director of Communications, [email protected] or +1 (613) 230-5182 ext. 243

Notes to Editors:


WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation. The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25 million people with clean water and, since 2004, 24 million people with sanitation. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at

  • Some 289,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s almost 800 children each day, or one child every two minutes.

  • An estimated 844 million people (around one in ten) are without clean water

  • Nearly 2.3 billion people (around one in three) live without a decent toilet

  • For every £1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of £4 is returned in increased productivity.

  • Just £15 can help provide one person with access to clean water.

  • For details on how individual countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, please see our online database,