Orignally published at UNDP Pakistan website in May 2017.
“We used to witness a large number of absenteeism during the summer months,” says the headmistress of Siksa village school. “Summer is the period of maximum output for us as we are closed in the winter for three months due to the intense cold with temperatures plummeting to minus 20 degrees Celsius and no heating. But the summer months were wasted as half the children remained absent due to gastrointestinal infections or were pulled out of school to help mothers with looking after the sick in the family or to assist with water related chores.”
Siksa village is located in Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan. Set amongst towering Himalayan peaks, the remote village is snowbound in the winter. As such, the summer months are critical for education. Yet, lack of access to a safe and reliable source of drinking water led to repeated illness amongst schoolchildren, causing many to miss school. Girls were particularly prone to drop out of education, helping their mothers on their hours-long daily journey to collect water and irrigate the fields.
With the completion of a joint project by Coca Cola and the United Nations Development Programme, working through the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization, however, this situation has dramatically changed. The New World project seeks to build environmentally sustainable and resilient communities through access to safe water and sanitation, and improved water resources through community based approaches. In Siksa, safe, clean drinking water for domestic consumption is now transported through underground pipes right to the doorstep. This has already drastically reduced the incidence of waterborne disease and school attendance has soared.
“Ever since the scheme became operational, we have seen a marked improvement in attendance. Girls’ attendance record is definitely better which means that water-related causes for their absence have been addressed,” says a teacher.
Siksa village’s parents are delighted with the change and have found that it has reduced their economic burden. “Although we don’t have to pay high fees for education, providing uniforms and buying books does cost money and places a strain on our meagre resources,” says one father. “We have five children and could only afford to send three boys to school and kept the two girls at home. Now, with reduced medical bills, we have savings which allow us to send all our children to school.”
The headmistress agrees vigorously. “This project is an investment in the future health of our children,” she says.