|UNICEF report on faith, education and water
UNICEF report on faith, education and water
The following text is taken from pages 36-39 of the document ‘Partnering with Religious Communities for Children’ produced by UNICEF in 2012. The document quotes from two papers presented to ARC’s 2009 ‘Faith In Water’ conference, one being Water supply, sanitation and hygiene facilities and related education in faith-based schools by Annemarieke Mooijman and Christine Sijbesma (M&S), and the other Water, Hygiene and Sanitation in Jewish Tradition by Dr Mirele B. Goldsmith (MB). You can read these and other conference papers in full by downloading ARC’s Faith In Water book as a pdf.
Other useful links can be found at the bottom of this page.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services coupled with poor hygiene practices
affect millions of children every day through illness, death, impoverishment and lack of
opportunities for development. Parents are less productive due to illness and time taken
collecting water and thus less able to provide adequately for their children’s needs. When
schools lack private and decent sanitation facilities, girls in particular are denied access to
education. In response UNICEF focuses on supporting sanitation and hygiene behaviour change
as well as improving access to water supply. Data show that the poorest are most likely to
lack water supply and sanitation, particularly the latter, which is one of the most inequitably
distributed interventions. Inequities in access to water and sanitation are made worse by
humanitarian disasters and fragile contexts.
Why partner with religious communities for water, sanitation and hygiene
“Linking faith with construction of water facilities and toilets in schools does not sound like an
obvious link, yet it is important. Water plays a central role in many religions and beliefs around
the world: source of life, it represents (re)birth. Water cleans the body, and by extension purifies
it, and these two main qualities confer a highly symbolic (even sacred) status to water. Water
is therefore a key element in ceremonies and religious rites. This is reflected in the way people
use water, in the way they design water systems and the need for accessibility of water for
cleansing after toilet use or washing hands.” (M&S, p2)
Water is the most essential element for human survival and as such has a prominent place in
many of the world’s faith traditions. Cleansing with water is a nearly universal metaphor for
spiritual cleansing, expressed in rituals such as bathing in the Ganges River for Hindus, washing before prayers in a mosque or baptism in the Christian tradition.
Clean water is the foundation of good hygiene and sanitation, which many religious traditions promote with prescriptions about waste management and cleansing rituals before spiritual functions. For example, within Hindu society people “must defecate beyond the distance
of an arrow shot from their home, and never in a temple enclosure, at the borders of a river,
pond or spring, or in a public place. During the act, Muslims cannot face towards Mecca and Hindus must not face celestial bodies, a temple, priest or holy tree.” (M&S, p1) Jewish law outlines
specific practices regarding hand washing as well as dealing with human waste. (MB, Faith in Water, p.67) Consulting with religious authorities to learn about the religious attitudes and corresponding behaviours regarding water, sanitation and hygiene practices such as hand washing can go a long way in developing appropriate and utilized systems.
“With globally about 64% of schools being faith-related, there are unique opportunities and
benefits from linking spiritual learning with learning on water, sanitation, hygiene and the
environment, and the improvement of water and sanitation facilities in schools.” (M&S, p11)
|“Water symbolizes God’s
presence, which is why
Krishna says, ‘I am the taste
in water’.” — Bhagavad Gita 7:8
The availability of good water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools – and education about
these issues – is critical for facilitating children’s right to water, sanitation and hygiene as well
as their right to education. Loss of school days due to diarrhoea, intestinal worms and other
illnesses caused by poor water and hygiene greatly affects learning and development. Girls
and female teachers also lose days due to the lack of facilities that take menstrual hygiene into
consideration. Given that, as noted above, a majority of schools are faith-related it is vital that
these faith communities provide facilities and effective water, sanitation and hygiene education
in their schools.
||A boy drinks water from a hand pump (Bangladesh)
- Religious leaders in Indonesia helped develop and
implement a hygiene and health project, the ‘Clean
Friday Campaign’, supported by the United States
Agency for International Development (USAID),
Institute Agama Islam Negeri Ar-Raniry (Ar-Raniry
State Islamic Religion Institute), CARE International,
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Johns
Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.
Ulama (religious leaders) were instrumental in
crafting health messages positively linked to Quranic
verses and Islamic teachings on basic hygiene
and personal cleanliness. They are committed to
spreading these behaviour change messages in
their communities through their Friday prayers,
community meetings and speeches.
(United States Agency for International
Development, ‘The Role of Religious Leaders and
Communities in Development Efforts in Asia and
the Middle East’, USAID Issue Brief, Washington,
DC, November 2009, p. 6.)
- In 2009 during a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe
there were a large number of deaths among
members of the Apostolic faith, who do not accept
modern medical treatment. UNICEF led major
advocacy efforts to increase the acceptance rate of
treatment. UNICEF also trained 96 religious leaders
and produced a programme on cholera hosted
by a popular talk show hostess that was shown
on national television and reached an estimated
300,000 people with appropriate hygiene messages.
- A 2009 Religion and Health Project evaluation
in Bhutan indicated that a sanitation and water
project was effective and relevant for improving and
promoting health, hygiene and sanitation in religious
institutions and their neighbouring communities. The
project included training religious health workers
with the skills to maintain and sustain the improved
health and hygiene conditions in religious schools.
- In 2010 the Alliance of Religions and Conservation
(ARC), which works with the major religious
traditions to develop their own environmental
programmes based on their core teachings, beliefs
and practices, joined the Call to Action for WASH
in Schools campaign led by UNICEF. The objective
of the Call to Action is to realize a vision where all
children go to school and all schools provide a safe,
healthy and comfortable environment where children
grow, learn and thrive. As part of the campaign a
global virtual library of WASH in Schools experiences
has been compiled through the leadership of
ARC and with the voluntary assistance of WASH
in Schools professionals from 39 countries. It is
available at .
What can religious communities do to promote water, sanitation
- Highlight the importance of water in faith traditions, particularly as it relates to worship
and rituals such as cleansing, purifying, baptizing, etc. Religious leaders can use such
opportunities to reinforce the need for clean water and good sanitation and challenge
attitudes and practices that run counter to good sanitation and hygiene.
- Provide clean water and well-maintained hand washing and sanitation facilities in
places of worship, religious schools and other facilities to model good practice for
the community. In emergencies, these may be used as centres for water storage
- Include lessons about the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene and good
practices in the curriculum of religious and faith-related schools.
- Conduct public awareness and, particularly with religious youth, peer-to-peer
campaigns illustrating the importance of and demonstrating good water, sanitation
and hygiene practices.
- Utilize religious media, such as radio and television, to disseminate messages and
public education regarding the importance of good water, sanitation and hygiene
practices such as hand washing, clean toilets and availability of clean water,
particularly in schools and other places where children assemble.
- Include water, sanitation and hygiene education in worship, ritual and holiday services,
especially with the assistance of community-based religious health organizations.
- Advise humanitarian organizations on their communities’ principles and practices
regarding water – such as hand washing, sanitation and hygiene considerations
around defecation, menstrual hygiene, etc. – in order to develop appropriate and
‘Partnering with Religious Communities for Children’ The full version of the UNICEF document, downloadable as a pdf.
UNICEF the official website of the UNICEF organisation.
Faith In Water book Downloadable pdf version of the ARC-produced collection of papers delivered at the Faith In Water conference, Salisbury, 2009.
WASH in Schools Resource-pasked UNICEF website section about the international WASH in Schools initiative.
WASH in Schools Mapping project lively website of the WASH In Schools programme including country by country profiles of what is being done.
Raising Even More Clean Hands Downloadable PDF version of the WASH In Schools programme’s ‘call to action’ from 2012.
Education and Water
ARC's programme linking faith schools with water and sanitation issues started in 2009. Now we are working with UNICEF and other bodies to help children have better access to clean water
April 1, 2009 :
Faith in Water Workshop: 5-7 July 2009
An ARC-EMF-IRC workshop being held in July will focus on faith schools, water, sanitation and hygiene.
8 September, 2009:
Faith in Water workshops leads to new network, partnerships, actions, ideas
This first Faith in Water conference resulted in an astonishing array of new and possible partnerships, including the UN family (UNDP, UNICEF, UN-HABITAT) inviting faiths to become official partners on these issues, and the World Bank suggesting the faiths become partners in particular in the Bank’s annual Water Week.