Public Works Minister Gyude Moore says “a simple sampling” in Monrovia-based schools unveils ‘appalling’ water, sanitation and hygiene situations or WASH, warning to work along with the Education Ministry to shutdown schools across the country until WASH activities are put in place.
Mr. Moore spoke Wednesday at the Charles D.B. King Elementary School on Warren Street where President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf launched a “Liberia wins” WASH program in schools, dubbed “Liberia’s first step to recovery from Ebola.”
UNICEF representative Mr. Sheldon Yett suggested that for changes in the WASH sector to be sustained in schools, the facilities should be in place, warning that 65 percent of schools in Liberia do not have access to water.
Given the appalling conditions of schools here, Minister Moore had said people get scared when they think of such schools that lack WASH facilities; adding, “when you send your children in those schools”, it seems you are sending them to get sick.
The Public Works Minister said if you visit schools outside Monrovia, schools found closed to the roads have WASH facilities, but it turns to be a different case with those in remote areas.
Citing the appalling conditions in schools here, Mr. Moore said the Ministry of Public Works will work closely with partners in improving access to WASH in schools, saying, funding to WASH reflects in budget as it has not been in recent years.
Launching the program, President Sirleaf said over the years, the WASH Sector has been fragmented that government has not been able to respond to the needs of the sector.
President Sirleaf however said the Ministries of Health, Education, Public Works, among others, have responsibilities in the sector.
In response to a call by OXFAM/WASH Consortium representative to place the WASH sector under a single roof, President Sirleaf said government has started the first step by establishing the national board.
But as to the issue of coming under one roof, she said to do so the administration must first get the recommendation, and that the sector needs to have a clear target and provide data as to the population of those who have been served and those neglected, respectively.
The Liberian leader promised that government will give much support to the sector. She has meanwhile told the WASH sector and school authorities to avoid asking students to carry their own water from the communities until clean water is established to be in their communities.
The President said it would be difficult to say students should carry their own water without knowing the source of water they have in their communities.
Earlier, Liberia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Saye Dahn Barwo said the Ministry of Health recognized the importance of WASH facilities in schools here, and that teachers in the 15 counties of Liberia were trained before schools re-opened after the Ebola crisis.
He said recent assessment shows that 98 percent of those interviewed have changed behaviors due to the Ebola; and that 83 percent of them has changed in terms of [washing hands] due to the Ebola crisis here.
Mr. Barwo said the Health Ministry continues to collaborate with the Ministry of Education in ensuring that all requirements for students to wash hands and have access to latrines were provided.
He said this collaboration existed before the Ebola outbreak, and it will continue to be emphasized not only for WASH activities, but for the well-being of students.
In remarks, OXFAM/WASH Consortium representative Mr. Drake Ssenyange, told President Sirleaf that the WASH Sector here lacks leadership, appealing that the sector be placed under one roof to have direction and leadership.
He said various NGOs and donors in the WASH sector here are like one family under different households, suggesting the need for the sector to come together under a permanent roof so that it can be functional and effective.
He finally appealed to President Sirleaf to ensure the enactment of law under her administration regarding a permanent WASH body here.
A 2.7 million soap boxes initial donation by UNICEF was announced by the Master of Ceremony during the launching exercise Wednesday.
The European Union’s Ambassador to Liberia, Madam Tiina Intelmann said, the “EU thinks” investment in education was the most important contribution that can be made towards the development of a nation.
But she said the EU wonders what happens next when all those speeches have been made at such ceremonies.
By Winston W. Parley