A latrine used by approximately 800 students at a high school in Haiti’s Central Plateau.

© 2014 Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – The World Bank, international donors, and the government of Haiti should include an emphasis on water and sanitation in schools at the October 9, 2014 donors’ conference, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to a vice president at the World Bank. The conference in Washington, DC, is intended to galvanize greater financial commitments for clean water and improved sanitation and health in Haiti.

Safe, clean latrines and water for drinking and hand-washing at schools are among the key areas donors need to address as they discuss combatting water-borne diseases like cholera in Haiti, Human Rights Watch said, based on its research in Haitian schools. Nearly 60 percent of Haiti’s schools have no toilets and more than three-quarters lack access to water.

“The majority of children in Haiti attend schools in such poor condition that they risk contracting disease,” said Amanda Klasing, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If donors at this conference are serious about improving health in Haiti, then they have to address kids’ right to attend schools that don’t make them sick.”

The relationship between the human rights to water and sanitation and to education are clear, Human Rights Watch said. Lack of potable water and sanitation at home or at school can increase the risk of water-borne illnesses and diarrhea and lessen the amount of time children are in school. Schools are a locus for the spread of disease. A demographic and health survey conducted by the government of Haiti in 2012 found that school-age children – ages 5 to 19 – have the highest incidence of cholera among all age groups and that children aged 5 to 14 have the second-highest percentage of cholera deaths.

In September, Human Rights Watch visited schools in the Central Plateau of Haiti to assess water and sanitation conditions at educational facilities, including some recently constructed with money from international donors that lacked adequate water and sanitation facilities. None of the schools visited complied with the government guidelines for hygiene in schools. Teachers, students, and government officials reported that the situation was dire and had a negative impact on education. Some said students stay home for more than a week to recover from preventable diarrhea.

A focus on improving water and sanitation in schools is crucial to any discussion of investments aimed at decreasing the risk of water-borne diseases and preventable child deaths in Haiti, Human Rights Watch said. The World Bank should take the lead in promoting the rights to water and sanitation for school children, including with commitments to:

  • Support the development, adoption, and implementation of a national plan on water and sanitation in schools;
  • Meet Ministry of National Education and Professional Development and Haitian government water infrastructure guidelines for basic requirements for the construction of sanitation facilities in rehabilitation and construction of schools;
  • Integrate water and sanitation programming into existing education investments, amend results frameworks to include water and sanitation indicators, and work with other donors to do the same; and
  • Ensure that schools are included in water and sanitation infrastructure plans and funding as part of the cholera eradication plan.

“Addressing Haiti’s water and sanitation needs requires a firm commitment to ensure that children don’t face a high risk of infection when they go to school,” Klasing said. “That includes making sure that kids have safe water and toilets at school.”