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Behaviours learned at school, like washing hands, stay with students for the rest of their lives and will influence those around them. The Ethiopian government is working hard to ensure that all children are enrolled in school and at the same time is challenged to provide adequate facilities for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

The Ministry of Education’s (MoE) latest national statistics show that only about 40% of primary schools in Ethiopia have a water supply, 19% have functional hand washing facilities, and 39% still has open defecation.

This is sobering for the prospects of children now growing up in Ethiopia. But the government and its NGO partners have collaborated to address the challenge with the launch of a strategy and action plan, and implementation guidelines.

In Addis Ababa, the city Education Bureau (AAEB), and the NGO Splash have been working together to strengthen School WASH across the biggest city in the country. They surveyed all public schools in the city (some 444), looked at school demographics, student numbers (almost 400,000), and the WASH situation. They found that 42% of students never use school latrines at all due to poor hygiene, and would rather wait until they get home. While 45% of students knew the importance of hand washing after toilet use, only 32% did so with water and 2% with soap. These are only some of the findings, but the general picture is that a lot needs to happen to improve WASH in schools. Good School WASH is a matter of both good infrastructure and behaviour change. Many different local and international NGOs are active in Addis Ababa and may be able to help. How can their effort be maximised?

Getting NGOs together is an important first step. If you know what others are doing and where, you can learn from them and prevent duplication. In the end, this might get us to where we need to be much faster. IRC (with funding the Conrad N Hilton Foundation) have supported Splash and the AAEB to undertake a landscaping study with precisely that objective. NGOs came together at a WASH in Schools workshop in December 2017 convened with the AAEB. This and some further interviews led to the ‘School WASH in Addis Ababa - Landscaping study report’ which was launched at the AAEB’s third annual Government-NGO forum on August 14th 2018.

The report finds that NGOs commonly work on all three WASH components simultaneously i.e. water, sanitation and hygiene. Many include WASH in multi-thematic support packages. Primary schools are the most common beneficiaries. The combined budget reported by 17 surveyed NGOs is approximately 1.1. million USD (30.6 m ETB) for 2010 (Ethiopian Financial Year, or 2017/18 G.C.). The median budget is 42,000 USD (1.15 m ETB) per organisation. The largest budgets are spent by AMREF and Splash. The main source of NGO funding is foreign philanthropy followed by development donors.

Is an investment of a million dollars in school WASH by international donors and NGOs in the capital a lot or little? The truth is we are not sure. We are not sure how much government or schools themselves might be investing either. Finding this out is a next step.

While government policy calls a huge scaling of WASH in school efforts, there was no clear trend discernible in NGO School WASH programming. About as many NGOs report an increase in School WASH programming as there are scaling down or phasing out. Practical challenges in Addis Ababa are said to include too little funding, low awareness of the importance of WASH in school staff, lack of leadership, professional capacity, and dedication of on-site technical staff. Then there is a perceived poorness of M&E regulation and performance standards and limited sector networking and coordination. The workshop already started to improve the latter.

 School WASH Operations in Addis Ababa

The AAEB’s Government-NGO forum is still in its infancy as a learning and coordination platform. After the forum there was some discussion between NGOs on how it might be strengthened. Ideas were floated on thematic commissions that might steer agenda-setting on School WASH and other things. If the AAEB chooses to carry this further, it could help tackle fragmentation in part of Addis Ababa’s NGO sector. The landscaping study is a starting point for discussion.

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