19 February 2004

South Africa: Agreement On Water Brings Hope for Learners

Pietermaritzburg — The Department of Education in KwaZulu-Natal will soon embark on a water and sanitation programme targeting about 300 schools in the Midlands.

The department says it plans to install infrastructure for sanitation and water supplies in these schools at least within the first five years of the next decade of freedom and democracy in the country.

The water and sanitation project is part of an agreement signed between the District Department of Education in Pietermaritzburg and Umngeni Water.

The agreement was signed in November last year and is based on a six-year plan to provide sanitation and water to schools in three District Municipalities, that is Ugu, Sisonke and Umgungundlovu.

It will see the 300 schools representing thousands of learners accessing water, which is a basic service, at reasonable charges by the provincial water supplier.

Umngeni Water has been involved with the department before, but this is the first time that it has made firm commitments towards alleviating the health hazards posed by inadequate sanitation in schools, especially in rural communities.

Umngeni Water Manager Minnie Venter-Hillerbrand said studies showed that out of 6 000 schools in the province, only about 8 percent had adequate water supply and sanitation.

She said research also showed a link between the drop out of girls from schools due to challenges posed on them by lack of sanitation.

"For girls it is difficult to urinate in an open space," she said.

Ms Venter-Hillerbrand added that most affected schools were in rural areas, which lacked adequate water supplies.

Education department spokesperson Muzi Kubheka said part of the agreement was that the department would include health and hygiene education as part of the curriculum.

"Unless people are taught from a young age about the importance of hygiene they will get used to poor hygiene and accept it as a way of life," he said.

He said since the agreement was signed, about 40 piping systems worth R2 million had been bought and installation would start soon.

Mr Kubheka added that the department compiled a Geographic Information System providing Umngeni Water with accurate network information about schools in need of piped water.

Selection criteria have already been drawn up following information from surveys sent out to various schools in the province.

He said the venture showed a remarkable commitment and set an example of how government could work with the private sector to benefit people.

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