Healthy water, healthy minds: the connection between water and school children’s health in Indonesia
Komarulzaman, A., Eelke, d. J., & Smits, J. (2019). Effects of water and health on primary school enrolment and absenteeism in Indonesia. Journal of Water and Health, 17(4), 633-646. http://dx.doi.org/10.2166/wh.2019.044
Approximately 2.1 billion or 11 percent of the global population still lacks access to safe and potable water. In Indonesia, access to clean water is a serious problem. Many people do not have running water at home, and lower-income families are often unable to afford potable water. Individuals have to travel great distances to reach water resources, and this time-consuming task tends to fall on children who are home to help their mothers with daily chores.
In addition, water can become contaminated more easily when it is transported over long distances in barrels or tanks. This increases the prevalence of water-related diseases that cause diarrhea, negatively impacting children’s health. Children who frequently help their family fetch water might also have less time to study and attend school.
In a research published in the Journal of Water and Health, Ahmad Komarulzman and his colleagues conducted a study to examine the direct and indirect effects of access to clean water and vulnerability to diarrhea on primary school attendance. This is a pioneering study that looks at three pivotal factors – water access, school enrollment, and diarrhea prevalence among primary school children. The researchers used school records to collect data on enrollment and attendance. They also implemented household surveys throughout Indonesia, measuring age, sex, education, health, and working activities over the period 1994-2014 to understand the correlation between the quality of health and access to clean water.
The results of the study found that waterborne diseases are more prevalent in households that have less access to piped water. Higher rates of diarrhea were also shown to be correlated with higher rates of school attendance and lower rates of school enrollment.
Health issues such as diarrhea are often overlooked when it comes to improving school enrollment. When children miss school due to poor health, this affects their ability to benefit from education, and can have long-term implications on their futures. This research is an important link between clean water supply and the larger socioeconomic issues that result from lack of access.
Despite the large body of literature on the relationship between clean water and mortality, there has been little investigation on the impact of water and sanitation improvement on school attendance. These research findings are seminal in suggesting how improvements in water infrastructure can benefit poor districts with low rates of school attendance and enrollment, not just in Indonesia, but in other developing countries that face similar issues of access to clean water. The study also suggests the potential of increasing school attendance by providing communities greater access to clean water, highlighting that policy-makers should correlate better quality water infrastructure with larger socioeconomic implications beyond public health.