Water access a top priority for Rwandan schools as they reopen
Pupils hand-washing to improve hygiene in schools. Source: Water for People Rwanda

By Daniel Nzohabonimana

Since March 2020, nearly 3.6 million students were confined in their homes as one of the ways to curb the spread of novel coronavirus in the country. The government was proactive to send them home when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Rwanda.  

“As students were sent home in an exceptional way, it is important that special measures are taken to make sure that they will be safe from coronavirus when they come back to school come September,” said Dr. Irene Ndayambaje, former Director General of Rwanda Education Board (REB). 

An important measure that was implemented in Rwanda was to make sure that each school across the country has access to clean water, unlike before the outbreak of coronavirus. 

The former Director General of Rwanda Education Board  stressed that one way to limit the spread of coronavirus is to frequently wash hands with clean water. It is therefore an obligation for each school in Rwanda to have a special place where schoolchildren will be hand-washing.

In partnership with the ministries of infrastructure, districts and schools around the country, the Rwanda Education Board looked for ways in which each school has access to clean water before schools reopened in November.

An organization such as Water Access Rwanda mobilized resources to partner with the government in its quest to avail water in schools. 

Water Access Rwanda team building a borehole. Source: Water Access Rwanda

The social enterprise that was started in 2014 aims to eradicate water scarcity in the East African region starting with Rwanda. 

The organisation was started as a summer program by Christelle Kwizera, who was back then studying mechanical engineering at Oklahoma Christian University in the United States of America. 

When she came home for a summer break, there was water scarcity mostly in eastern parts of Rwanda. People were fetching unclean water in lakes that were infested by crocodiles. It was then common for people to be killed by crocodiles while fetching unclean water. 

That situation inspired Kwizera, the managing director, to come back home after her studies and start the project. 

Through a fundraising drive that was done in Oklahoma where she was attending her degree program, she was able to raise more than USD $15,000 to drill 15 boreholes and provide clean water near communities that were fetching water in crocodile-infested lakes. 

Six years down the road, the organisation has provided clean water to over 100,000 Rwandans through a network of 95 boreholes and INUMA-purified water micro grids. 

Now the organisation is joining hands with the government to connect schools to clean water in a bid to limit the spread of Covid-19. Even though the task is huge, Water Access Rwanda is intending to play its parts. 

The technical director of the social enterprise, Christian Hirwa, said that two schools in Kigali city have already been connected to its system using the Inuma tap, which is a kiosk connected to a borehole. 

“Our water source is a borehole that is powered by a solar pump or a hybrid of solar and electricity,” explains Hirwa. 

The technical team at Water Access Rwanda purifies water using a filtration system that removes sediments. They also add chlorine so that the quality of water is the same from production to the end users. 

The social enterprise is mobilizing resources with different stakeholders to connect more schools. 

People lining up before Inuma kiosk to buy water. Source: Water Access Rwanda 

Schools concerned over high water fees

Given the fact that it is now an obligation for schools to be connected to clean water to facilitate hand-washing, schools across the country are appealing to the government to lower water tariffs as they fear that water expenditures will increase.

The issue was also exposed by the report of the Parliament Standing Committee on Education, ICT, Culture and Youth which was approved by the Parliament on June 12, 2020. 

Nicodème Twahirwa, the head teacher of Ecole des Sciences Louis de Montfort Nyanza in Nyanza District, said that the school has 678 students and spends between Rwf600,000 and Rwf 700,000 (about USD $600-700) on water per month. 

The school is classified in the non-residential category as it consumes more than 50 cubic metres of water per month. 

The current water tariffs set by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) are based on the monthly water consumption by cubic metre (m3) whereby a flat rate of Rwf323 is charged on a cubic metre for public tap, while water for non-residential category ranges from Rwf877 a cubic metre for water use that does not exceed 50 cubic metres, and Rwf895 a metre for water that is above 50 cubic metres per month.

A school like Ecole des Sciences Louis de Montfort Nyanza in Nyanza District fears that with that tariff coupled with a VAT of 18 percent, it will end up paying more than Rwf 1,000 (USD $1) a cubic metre. 

In order to implement the government’s requirement to avail water in schools and facilitate hand-washing to fight against Covid-19, schools are appealing to the government to classify them in the category of public tap so that they will afford water expenditure. 

Schools are arguing that a lot of water is consumed to meet students’ needs for drinking water, washing clothes, and preparing meals among others.

In addition to that, implementing hygiene practices consisting of frequently washing hands in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in schools will likely increase water consumption.

However much the government and stakeholders such as Water Access Rwanda are looking for ways to connect more schools to its system, paying for water will remain a challenge for schools, especially for private ones. 

Under Water Access Rwanda’s Inuma kiosk management, customers first decide how much water they want to buy before consumption, then pay for it. It is basically a system of pay as you go. 

The technical director said that they implemented this system because it was hard to collect payments when customers first use water then pay later. Mr Hirwa noted that their customers have to decide first the amount of water they will use before buying a token corresponding to the water quantity they will need. 

The organisation sells water at Rwf 1,000 (USD $1) a cubic metre, a tariff that is considered expensive by schools, to implement the government’s hygiene measures to limit the spread of Covid-19. 

Building new classrooms for social distancing

Another measure that was taken by the government of Rwanda to limit the spread of Covid-19 is to facilitate social distancing.  

More than 22,000 new classrooms were consequently built by the Ministry of Education, the biggest project to be carried out in Rwanda’s education sector over the last ten years, whereby many classrooms are built in the same period of time. 

Funded by the government of Rwanda and the World Bank at the cost of 218 billion Rwandan francs (USD $228 million), the construction was expected to be completed ahead of the reopening of schools, Permanent Secretary of Rwanda Ministry of Education Samuel Mulindwa told a news briefing.

Mulindwa said that 31,932 latrines have also been constructed along with classrooms. Latrines were shown lacking in a 2019 analysis. 

Pupils overcrowded in a school. Source: Global Partnership for Education

The ministry also plans to recruit 29,000 more teachers and set 501,750 new desks. Every class will accommodate 23 desks for 46 students, he said.

The former Director General of Rwanda Education Board noted that the project will reduce overcrowding at primary and secondary schools and enable schools to practice social distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

In July 2019 the World Bank reported that the pupil-to-classroom ratio (PCR) in Rwanda in 2018 averaged 82 in public schools. In Rwanda primary schools often exceeded 65 students and 100 in extreme cases. 

The World Bank recommends a 23 pupil-to-classroom ratio (PCR) so Rwanda is still lagging behind in this regard.  

According to a report by the Parliament Standing Committee on Education, ICT, Culture and Youth, overcrowding in classrooms was pointed out as one of the pressing problems that are hampering the quality of education in Rwanda.  

The government took into consideration the Parliamentary report and invested resources to build more classrooms to increase the quality of education as well as facilitate social distancing in classrooms to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

However, water prices will be a stumbling block for schools as the government’s hygiene measure to frequently hand-wash will likely increase water expenditure and hamper their financial sustainability.