Boreholes provide clean water for thousands
When the devastating effect of the El Nino weather system reached its peak in Papua New Guinea around June 2016, the prolonged drought experienced since May 2015, had taken a visible toll on food crops, water sources and subsequently the education of thousands of school children.
El Nino is not caused by climate change. It is a climate cycle that produces a temporary change in the climate of the Pacific Ocean caused by warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator. This can have a global impact on weather patterns and produces some of the hottest years on record due to the amount of heat that rises from Pacific waters into the overlying atmosphere.
Sixteen-year-old Bevelyn Moses was amongst thousands of school children who lost up to 200 hours of learning over six months in 2016.
Numerous schools around the country faced the same predicament including St. Anslem Primary School in the North Waghi District in Jiwaka Province where Bevelyn is a now grade six student.
“Our teachers sent us home every day at lunch time because there was no water in our school. Our water tanks dried up and our teachers also had no water. It was sad for us to miss school but we had no choice,” says Bevelyn, who has high hopes of becoming a nurse when she completes her education.
Fearing an outbreak of communicable diseases like typhoid, cholera, diarrheal and waterborne diseases, Anselm Primary School Head Teacher, Steven Nagombi, sent over 1,000 of his students’ home at noon on a daily basis between June and early December 2016.
”We lost two and a half hours of learning time every day by sending students home at noon but we couldn’t keep them here because the only other water source we have is a river near the school but that was contaminated by the people living upstream at the time when water levels were very low. The risk for disease outbreak was too high for us to keep students in school for a whole day and exposed to contaminated water,” Steven stresses.
In August 2016, as part of a national response to the drought, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Divisions of Education and Health in Jiwaka Province, supported the installation of eight boreholes in eight schools in Jiwaka Province to ensure a continuous supply of clean water so as not to disrupt their learning.
St. Anslem Primary School was one of the eight schools selected for this project. Up to 1,400 students, 37 teachers and their families and close to 3,000 people who live in nearby communities around the school now access clean water supplied by the borehole.
Sister Kolly Bang, a Health Superintendent from the Jiwaka Provincial Administration, who coordinated the installation of these boreholes believes an estimated 40,000 people including some 10,000 school children in these schools and surrounding communities now have access to a good supply of clean water.
“We thank UNICEF for this support. The eight schools we chose for this project met two important criteria. One was the large number of students and the second was the school’s proximity to health facilities who could also have access to clean water as they were also seriously affected by the drought,” Sr. Kolly explains. “To keep maintenance costs to a minimum each school selected two members of the community who were trained as pump minders by the contractors to ensure the pumps are kept in working condition,” she adds.
For Bevelyn, she is happy the school has a bore hole. “Thank you UNICEF for the bore hole. Now we don’t have water problems and we can go to school properly,” she says.
Most schools in Papua New Guinea do not have access to proper piped water systems and depend on rainwater for their drinking and hygiene (WASH) needs.
A baseline assessment conducted in 2015 in Papua New Guinea by the National Department of Education and UNICEF to assess the situation of WASH in schools revealed that only 41 per cent of the primary schools surveyed had only one functional toilet exclusively for girls and 51 per cent of the schools had one functional toilet for boys.
In a preliminary analysis on WASH data collected in 2016 by the Education Management System, it indicated that only 10 percent of the schools had soap at the time of the survey, 28 per cent had clean, functional and gender separate toilets for girls and boys but where those existed, they were built close to each other.
Papua New Guinea ranks the lowest globally for access to safe water. It is also the lowest in the Pacific for adequate sanitation. Water borne diseases such as diarrhea and acute respiratory infections are among the biggest killers of children under five. Over 60 percent of the population does not use improved water supplies and less than 20 percent use improved sanitation facilities, leading to widespread open defecation in rural communities. The country is spending more on health care costs which could be avoided with the right investment in the WASH sector.
UNICEF is working closely with the National and Provincial Governments to support WASH related activities in schools to improve the health and learning performance of children — and by extension, that of their families — by reducing the incidence of water and sanitation related diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, and cholera. This support includes promoting safe usage of toilets, safe drinking water, hand washing with soap and Menstrual Hygiene Management in schools.
Furthermore, UNICEF is also working with the National WASH Programme Unit to support sector coordination of all WASH actors in the country to make a meaningful impact on WASH outcomes in schools, health facilities and at house hold levels.