The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and UN-HABITAT on Tuesday launched a USD 332,287 program that will provide sanitation and access to clean water to over 20 selected schools in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The program aims to provide rainwater harvesting, basic sanitation and hygiene awareness as well as expand access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation and to promote behavioral change in hygiene practices among the pupils and immediate communities.

It will benefit 18000 pupils, teachers and parents in 20 pilot schools located in 10 towns around the Lake Victoria region with Kenya having six, Uganda having eight and Tanzania having six.

Peter Njonjo, General Manager Coca-Cola East Africa said the challenge posed by water scarcity was both a social and economic challenge necessitating active involvement by all players.

“Our production facilities face increasing challenges in securing sufficient clean water to meet growing demand whilst the communities in which we do business are facing growing difficulties in finding adequate sources of clean drinking water. Their livelihoods are threatened.  This has serious implications for our business and we must respond,” said Mr. Njonjo.

He said, adding that with more than 300 million people in Africa lacking access to clean water, water scarcity poses a major threat to the health of African peoples and prospects for economic growth.

The UN HABITAT/Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) Water for Schools Project is part of a regional effort towards achieving the millennium development goals through improvement in access to clean water and sanitation.

According to WHO, over half of the population in the three countries lack access to basic sanitation, while two in every three have no access to safe drinking water.  “The statistics are grim, and in real life it means we are looking at a catastrophe,” said Laban Onong’no UN-HABITAT, Chief Technical Advisor, Lake Victoria Region Water and Sanitation Initiative.

Onong’no cited a recent survey by his organization UN-HABITAT which revealed that only 11 percent of the schools in the region meet the minimum standards for toilet availability.  Out of every 100 schools, only four were found to have hand-washing facilities with water. The survey found that one toilet is shared by an average of 65 pupils. UNICEF recommends a toilet per 25 girls and one per 50 boys.

“Lack of clean water and sanitation facilities in schools means our children are exposed every day to various types of waterborne diseases because most of their day is spent in the school,” said Mr. Onong’no adding that the program hopes to improve enrolment rates, reduce incidences of water borne diseases and boost knowledge transfer through behavior change among the pupils and parents.

In a speech read on behalf of Education Minister Prof. Sam Ongeri by Mr William Adhoch, an assistant director of quality services, the Minister lauded the initiative and urged more organizations to come forward with initiatives that help keep children in school to aid performance improvement.

While noting that many schools in Kenya lack access to safe drinking water and good sanitation facilities, the Minister said the expansion of school infrastructure has not kept pace with the increased enrolment owing to the free primary education. This influx, he said, had resulted congestion, poor sanitation and the lack of safe drinking water.