Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools: Special focus on COVID-19


Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools: Special focus on COVID-19 was published on August 13, 2020, by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund through their Joint Monitoring Programme. Established in 1990, the programme presents data on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), in keeping with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6 and related goals).

The report provides national, regional, and global estimates on WASH in schools up to the year 2019, emphasising the safety of students and staff amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. It primarily uses data compiled by the UNICEF and WHO country offices in consultation with national statistical offices and ministries of education. The report covers a total of 173 countries, areas and territories, including India. Among these, 120 countries reported having sufficient data on drinking water services, 117 countries had enough information on sanitation and 110 countries had sufficient data on basic hygiene.

The 88-page report has seven chapters: Introduction (chapter 1); Progress on drinking water in schools (chapter 2); Progress on sanitation in schools (chapter 3); Progress on hygiene in schools (chapter 4); Reducing inequalities in WASH in schools (chapter 5); Providing safe and inclusive facilities for all (chapter 6); and Annexes (chapter 7).


  1. According to the report, 15 per cent of schools – accounting for 287 million children – had no drinking water services in 2019. Over half of these children (164 million) were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

  2. The report enumerates 18 countries wherein more than 33 per cent of schools had no water services in 2019. More than half of these countries are located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  3. As many as 23 million children India did not have access to drinking water services in their schools.

  4. Over 462 million children worldwide did not have access to hygiene services at school in 2019 – they either had no handwashing facility or no water. More than half of this population (244 million children) is from Sub-Saharan Africa, 125 million children are from Central and South Asia, and 92 million are from India.

  5. In Central and South Asia, the number of schools with no hygiene services reduced from 46 per cent in 2015 to 23 per cent in 2019. The report attributes this mainly to India and Bangladesh – in both countries, the proportion of schools with no hygiene services halved during this time period. In India, a reduction from 52 to 25 per cent was observed.

  6. Nearly one in five schools – accounting for 367 million children – reported a lack of sanitation services, meaning they either had inadequate sanitation facilities or no facility at all. In India, as many as 62 million children did not have sanitation facilities at school.

  7. The report highlights that 66 per cent of schools in India had basic water services as of 2019, 58 per cent had basic sanitation facilities, and 51 per cent had hygiene services with handwashing facilities as well as water. Despite this, only one in three schools (32 per cent of schools) provided all WASH facilities to students.

  8. In India, 29 per cent of schools had toilets accessible to children with special needs. Yet, only 14 per cent of schools had both ramps and handrails, and just six per cent had wide doors for wheelchair entry and support structures inside toilets.

  9. As many as 191 countries reported school closures to control the spread of Covid-19, affecting 90 per cent of students across the globe. This – the report states – has presented an unprecedented risk to the education and wellbeing of children. It states that these prolonged closures will prove detrimental due to disruptions in school-based services essential for the nutrition, health, welfare and protection of children.

  10. The report emphasises the importance of hygiene in reducing the transmission of Covid-19 in schools. It recommends that all schools enforce practices such as regular handwashing as well as the daily disinfection and cleaning of surfaces. The report also calls for the provision of basic water, sanitation and waste management facilities at schools.

    Focus and factoids by Gayatri Ailani.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization 


United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization 


13 Aug, 2020