National standards for WASH facilities in schools and monastic institutions unveiled

YANGCHEN LHAMO
Thimphu

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) and the Dratshang Lhentshog released the much anticipated ‘‘National Standards for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools and Monastic Institutions,’’ in Samtse recently.

This marks a significant step towards enhancing the quality of education and spiritual development through improved WASH facilities.

This comprehensive framework, developed through meticulous collaboration with stakeholders including communities, local government, and relevant agencies, addresses the unique requirements of both educational and monastic settings.

The new standards aim to ensure that every student, teacher, and practitioner has access to clean water, proper sanitation, and sound hygiene practices. Emphasizing the importance of a reliable, perennial water source, the document highlights the necessity of an alternative water source to mitigate interruptions caused by natural disasters or climate change.

Strict guidelines mandate the microbiological testing of drinking water to ensure safety, with assistance from the Royal Center for Disease Control (RCDC) and other relevant agencies.

Schools and monastic institutions are also required to provide a minimum of 20 liters of water per day for day students and 100 liters for those in boarding facilities, with independent reservoirs to prevent contamination.

Adequate, accessible, and private toilets are mandated, with specific ratios outlined: one toilet per 20 girls, and one toilet and one urinal per 30 boys, along with staff facilities.

Design features focus on accessibility and convenience, incorporating elements like ventilated cubicles, European- type pots, urinals with bottle traps, and waterproof doors. Emphasis is placed on inclusive design, ensuring facilities are accessible to differently abled individuals.

The standards stress the integration of hygiene promotion within schools and monastic institutions. Adequate tap stands with soap, designated shower and laundry facilities, and menstrual hygiene provisions with private changing rooms are required.

Innovative waste management systems are also mandated, with a focus on education, proper segregation, and routine disposal in consultation with local health and municipal authorities.

While a strong management plan is essential for the sustainable use of WASH facilities, schools, and monastic institutions must establish health clubs and designate trained health coordinators responsible for overseeing maintenance, cleanliness, and accurate data collection for the Education Management Information System (EMIS).

Preventive maintenance and a prioritized budget for WASH facilities are other critical components of the framework.

Passang Tshering, Executive Director of the Bhutan Toilet Organization (BTO), one of the members of the technical group of this project shed light on the critical measures being taken to ensure alignment and implementation of these standards across the country.

He emphasized that both the MoESD and Dratshang Lhengtshog have endorsed the new WASH standards.

This endorsement is part of a broad vision ensuring that all Bhutanese children, whether in schools or monastic institutions, have access to adequate WASH facilities.

‘‘The document is designated to ensure that all future WASH developments adhere to the standards set within it,’’ Tshering said, highlighting the cohesive effort to unify the WASH infrastructure across diverse educational settings.

Addressing the financial aspect, he stated that the construction of toilets will continue to be supported by various funding agencies, including government sources and foreign donors.

He said the key is that irrespective of the funding sources, the facilities must comply with the established standards while also reinforcing the commitment to maintaining high-quality and consistent sanitation facilities nationwide.

Plans for toilet construction within monastic institutions fall under the jurisdiction of Dratshang Lhengtshog. Tshering confirmed that this governing body is responsible for overseeing and ensuring the implementation of the WASH standards in these settings, ensuring that monastic institutions are not left behind in the national push for improved sanitation.

When questioned about BTO’s capability to oversee the construction of toilets nationwide, Tshering stated the BTO possesses the required expertise and human resources to manage the construction of every public and institutional toilet.

He also highlighted that beyond expertise, it is the organization’s passion and sense of responsibility that drives their diligent efforts in this area.

Tshering also addressed the common issue of poorly maintained toilets. He pointed out that the primary reasons for this are often linked to the design and finishing of the toilets, as well as user behaviour and management.

‘‘The new standards document outlines both these critical aspects to ensure we have aesthetically pleasing toilets that are well-maintained by users,’’ he remarked, stressing the importance of both good design and responsible usage.

The unveiling of these standards marks a significant step towards equitable and inclusive education and spiritual development environments. By setting these uniform WASH standards, the ministry aims to ensure that every individual benefits from a setting that prioritizes their health, dignity, and overall well-being.

The ministry states that the   implementation of this framework is expected to lead to a future where schools and monastic institutions across the country are equipped with top-tier WASH facilities, fostering environments conducive to learning, spiritual growth, and holistic development.

The BTO also remains dedicated in ensuring that all Bhutanese educational and monastic institutions are equipped with hygienic, inclusive, and well-maintained sanitation facilities.

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