Over one million people were displaced by the 2010 Haiti earthquake, many of them forced to live in camps with limited access to clean water and sanitation. A staggering 5,000 schools were damaged or destroyed by the disaster – but even before that, sanitation in schools was often very poor, putting children at risk of waterborne diseases.
More important than ever. Hundreds of thousands of people have been sick with cholera since the outbreak began in October 2010, and more than 7,000 have been killed. more important than ever. Hundreds of thousands of people have been sick with cholera since the outbreak began in October 2010, and more than 7,000 have been killed.
With the support of Dubai Cares, UNICEF has provided WASH services in displacement camps in the aftermath of the disaster. From 2010 and 2011, UNICEF responded with WASH improvements to 220 schools, including new latrines and hand washing stands. The WASH program has also provided schools with chlorine tabs, posters about cholera prevention and soap.
Ms. Andrelita Beauvoir, headmistress of Institution Mixte de Beauvoir in Port-au-Prince explained that before the earthquake, the school was in a different building that lacked proper facilities. Children used latrines but due to lack of water, they were constantly dirty, posing a health risk for the students. To find water, they had to dig a well, install a pump and then carry water to the facilities. "It was really complicated,” explained Ms. Beauvoir, “now there are enough toilets for all the school children and the air is breathable. Now children can go safely without worrying about soiling their clothes”. The change is not just limited to bricks and mortar. Now that good knowledge can actually be practiced, Ms. Beauvoir has instituted new hygiene promotion activities. "We're doing permanent outreach work with the students on hygiene. That way they also become health officers, passing on the information they learn here to their families at home and in communities in which they live. These practices should now become part of their habits," she explained.
Every year, millions of school age children fall prey to diseases linked to poor water and sanitation which leave them weakened and unable to attend school on a regular basis or participate to their full potential. The tragedy of the situation is that this could be easily prevented by enforcing sound hygiene and sanitation practices. Through Dubai Cares’ WASH programs in Haiti, the organization is tackling the issue by changing student attitudes towards hygiene and showcasing how an act as simple as washing hands with soap, will ensure better productivity at school.
These positive results of the WASH program, achieved in the context of a life threatening cholera outbreak, and combined with higher level advocacy, inspired the Government of Haiti to declare WASH in Schools one of its key priorities – and to establish a National Alliance for WASH in Schools. Launched on March 20, 2012 with the Ministry of Education, this national alliance unites a variety of actors that see children as key “agents of change” in their communities and nation.