In developing countries, access to clean drinking water and sanitation is closely linked to children’s education. Illnesses due to contaminated water are one of the major causes of absenteeism in schools: they are responsible in the loss of over 443 million school days each year. When they are not forced to miss their classes, many children experience a decrease in their learning potential, which in turn leads to stunted development, lower concentration and poor academic performance.
A lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation also has severe repercussions on the quality of teaching. As a result, the best teachers refuse to work in schools that have no toilets and water supplies. These schools, unfortunately, must hire less-qualified teachers—who are also at risk of contracting illnesses and missing school.
The burden of collecting water, which takes several hours a day, is an additional factor that negatively impacts children’s education. Young girls, who are often delegated this chore, must travel long distances to reach water access points. These girls inevitably miss school. In addition, due to their specific hygiene needs, the lack of sanitation facilities in schools affects girls’ classroom attendance. Without toilets to protect their health, safety and dignity, young girls often stop attending school when puberty arrives or are forced to miss classes due to their menstrual periods. Of 104 million children absent from school, 65 million are girls.
Improving access to clean drinking water and sanitation enables children—particularly girls—to fully benefit from their rights to an education. According to a study conducted in Tanzania, by reducing the time it takes to collect water by a mere 15 minutes, communities can help increase girls’ classroom attendance by 12%. This is a concrete solution to help combat poverty, particularly because young, educated women are less likely to get married against their will, die because of a complicated birth, or have a very large family that is difficult to support. Furthermore, the probability that these young women give birth to healthy babies is much higher. They are also more likely to send their children to schools. Finally, women who were able to attend school earn higher salaries, are more productive, and actively participate in a community’s social, economic and political spheres. The numbers speak for themselves: a 10% increase in literacy rates among women increases the life expectancy at birth by 10% and national economic growth by 0.3%. Access to clean water and education, therefore, introduces women to more opportunities, which have a positive impact on their families and communities.