Safer and friendlier dormitory environments are needed!

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In Mongolia, more than 35,000 children live in 540 dormitories of secondary schools for up to nine months a year. Unfortunately, safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in dormitories have been given low priority for a long time in the country, especially in rural areas.

Almost half of Mongolian students enroll in schools in Ulaanbaatar, which account for one-third of schools across the country. The majority of the schools in Ulaanbaatar are connected to water supply and sewer sanitation. Other students attend schools either in province centers, which are relatively well served by urban water, sanitation and hygiene services, or soum centers and bags, which have no access to piped water supply and sewerage services.

Children’s right to live in a healthy and safe environment is seriously violated due to the poor conditions of dormitories, according to civil society organizations and teachers. General Coordinator of the All for Education National Civil Society Coalition of Mongolia D.Tungalag, for instance, informed, “The boys’ dormitory of Buyant soum School in Bayan-Ulgii Province is in very bad conditions – uninhabitable I might say. Children only come to their dormitory to sleep and at other times, they are at school or other places. Therefore, the parent and teacher association of the school renovated it with a budget of 75 million MNT. Moreover, the soum officials said that they did not provide heating for the school in order to save the budget. This is a violation of children’s rights and education. This has negative consequences not only for the health of teachers and children but also for the quality of work.”

She recommended that if unable to build dormitories anew, soums need to at least renovate old dormitories to create a healthy and safe environment for children. Rural school dormitories have no easy access to viable water sources, public sewerage and wastewater treatment facilities and settlement-wide heating systems. In specific, many soum schools continue to build outdoor toilet blocks without any enclosed and lighted access way or handwashing facilities as their main sanitation facilities.

As Mongolia experiences harsh winters, with temperatures falling to around –50 degrees Celsius in winter, basic outdoor toilet blocks need to be retained in the short term, while efforts to replace them with hygienic toilets grouped in sanitation blocks that meet the minimum requirements should be made in the longer terms, children’s rights activists caution.

For example, eighth grader M.Sanchirsuren has been living at the Bayan-Adarga soum dormitory in Khentii Province since fifth grade. He said that it was difficult to live in the old dormitory before the new dormitory was put into operation in 2019 and expressed his happiness that children now live in a very clean and warm environment. More specifically, he used to live with nine children in one room in the old dormitory. Actually, there were supposed to be six children in one room.

M.Sanchirsuren noted, “Now each child has one bed, so it is very restful and comfortable. The best thing of the new dormitory is the indoor toilets. I used to be afraid to go to pit latrines at night. Therefore, I used to ask the oldest in the room to go to the toilet with me. Now our new dormitory is close to the school and warm. We like to play chess and checkers in addition to studying at the dormitory.”

In general, there are no conditions for children to learn and live in a favorable environment in soum dormitories. In particular, teacher of Tsagaan-Uul soum’s school dormitory in Khuvsgul Province Kh.Davaasuren said, “Tsagaan-Uul soum has more than 1,200 students. More than 200 children live in three dormitories. One of the problems we face is that the rooms or departments in the dormitory are not furnished. Our rooms are still the same as they were when I graduated from high school in 1997. Sometimes, only the paint of the building is changed. The beds, tables and chairs we had in rooms when I used to study are still in use. In general, because children live in low-income families, most parents have little opportunity to decorate their children’s rooms. That’s why we ask the government to make a unified standard, solve the problem of furnishing the dormitory rooms and include it in the state budget.”

In fact, in 2015, the Ministry of Education and Science, together with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance, issued the minimum requirements for good water, sanitation and hygiene in dormitories and schools. These cover the location of facilities, particularly sanitation facilities, the number of users per facility, drinking water quality, per capita water requirements, provision for small children and the disabled, provision for adolescent girls, and hygiene education. However, some rural dormitories do not meet the minimum requirements, which specify that each school and dormitory have indoor flush toilets, and where necessary, outdoor latrines are permitted for use as long as they have proper insulation, ventilation, lighting and handwashing facilities located at least 20 meters away from school and dormitory buildings.

In 2021, Coram International released its evaluation report on the implementation of the Law on Child Protection of Mongolia. It concluded that the law cannot help solve the problem of children living in dormitories. It is unfortunate that the entire law is of no use to such a large community.

LACK OF BUDGET

Chronically low levels of capital investment have left old school dormitories, mostly built during the 1970s and 1980s, rundown and lacking safe drinking water, sanitation and heating, and protection from rain and wind. Resource constraints on water supply and sanitation services include a lack of a dedicated budget to cover the ongoing operation, regular maintenance and repair of facilities, limited availability of the technical and management knowledge and skills required to ensure sustainable operation of facilities, and a lack of reliable electricity supply.

According to a study conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 95 percent of the budget of dormitories is spent on children’s food. Therefore, teachers and staff say that dormitories are not able to perform child protection activities. In other words, they don’t have the budget for other activities.

The main source of funds is likely to be the state budget, though other sources may be available. In particular, Bayan-Adarga soum of Khentii Province built a new dormitory for 100 children with an investment of 1.2 billion MNT from the state budget. Director of the Bayan-Adarga soum school O.Ankhbayar said that when the former 30-year-old dormitory building was in use, it used to receive up to 70 applications from children. Since the opening of the new building, the dormitory receives at least 110 applications, she added. Due to the lack of funding, all of soums of Khentii cannot build new dormitories but they are renovating their old dormitories within the framework of local budgets or projects, she clarified.

Therefore, in order to request and approve funding for improving good water, sanitation and hygiene, rural schools and dormitories need to, firstly, identify water, sanitation and hygiene needs and consult local education departments. As mentioned above, the main source of funding is the local development fund of the local government or the state budget. Then, education departments consider their needs, assess priority, prepare a list of schools and dormitories with water, sanitation and hygiene improvement needs and submit the list to local government or relevant ministries for review, with priority set on requests for funding. When the funding request is approved, local government and education ministry launch a bidding process for design, drawing and cost estimates, which need to be approved by relevant agencies before the bidding process for civil works starts.

In other words, the government performs the main roles and responsibility for funding and decision-making to support and finance improvements for dormitory water, sanitation and hygiene. Moreover, stakeholders such as local government, public water supply organization, local public utility service organization, local educational department, school management committee, school management and school staff and engineers, architects and cost estimators have performed their main roles in water, sanitation and hygiene management, operation and maintenance.

Experts say that the best way to ensure adequate funding is to include explicit tasks related to water, sanitation and hygiene in school budgets. As major repairs are expensive and the need for such repairs is difficult to predict, funding for major repairs should be included in local budgets rather than those of individual schools, they recommend.

Therefore, it is necessary to include sufficient money in the state budget to solve the problems of rural dormitories on a significant scale. In fact, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of the education sector decreased from more than 1.7 trillion MNT in 2019 to about 539 billion MNT in 2021, according to the National Statistics Office. In other words, the saved budget could have been used to improve the conditions of rural school dormitories.

819 SANITATION FACILITIES TO BE BUILT NEXT YEAR

Rural schools, kindergartens, dormitories and households had benefited from improved drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and wastewater treatment systems. As a result of school and dormitory projects on good water, sanitation and hygiene, more than 65,000 children in 105 rural schools, kindergartens and dormitories of Mongolia got access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene facilities from 2012 to 2020.

According to a study conducted by ADB, 63 percent of dormitories or schools have basic sanitation services at the national level, 21 percent have limited sanitation services and 16 percent have no sanitation services at all.

There is a study that 819 schools, kindergartens and dormitories in Mongolia have outdoor latrines. There are risks for children to get chronic or infectious diseases and fall into the toilet pits. Therefore, for starters, it was decided to solve the problem of sanitary facilities of these schools, kindergartens and dormitories.

Anyway, Parliament passed Resolution No. 39 on measures to be taken in connection with the adoption of the 2021 Budget Law of Mongolia was approved. Under the resolution, Erdenet Mining Corporation is obliged to finance the 100 billion MNT needed to equip the above 819 schools, kindergartens and dormitories with sanitary facilities that meet modern standards and requirements within the framework of its social responsibility by 2023.

In particular, in October, sanitary facilities will be put into permanent use at 110 kindergartens, schools, and dormitories in 36 soums of 11 provinces, according to the Ministry of Education and Science.

Specifically, a project to replace pit latrines of public kindergartens, secondary schools, and dormitories with modern sanitary facilities is being implemented in four stages by the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Construction and Urban Development and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. This project started in 2021.

As of September 2022, the project team is working at 24 institutions in 11 soums of five provinces and has started putting new sanitary facilities into use. In October, new sanitary facilities will be put into operationat 110 kindergartens, schools and dormitories in 36 soums of 11 provinces.

It includes:
• 10 facilities in Bugat, Bulgan, Buyant and Sagsai soums of Bayan-Ulgii Province
• 11 facilities in Zuungovi, Khyargas and Tsagaankhairkhan soums of Uvs Province
• 15 facilities in Duut, Bulgan, Altai and Uyench soums of Khovd Province
• 40 facilities in Asgat, Bayantes, Tes, Tudevtei, Tsagaankhairkhan, Durvuljin, Bayankhairkhan, Otgon, Urgamal, Yaruu, Numrug and Songino soums of Zavkhan Province
• One facility in Jargalan soum of Govi-Altai Province
• Four facilities in Bayanbulag and Zag soums of Bayankhongor Province
• 12 facilities in Gurvanbulag, Mogod, Khangal and Bayannuur soums of Bulgan Province
• Three facilities in Khangai soum of Arkhangai Province
• Five facilities in Jargalant and Sergelen soums of Tuv Province
• Six facilities in Erdenedalai and Tsagaandelger soums of Dundgovi Province
• Three facilities in Ulaanbadrakh soum of Dornogovi Province

Of course, it is not possible to provide ongoing sanitation-related activities (operation, maintenance, and repair of facilities, as well as hygiene education activities) unless funds are available to finance them. Adequate funding for school dormitories needs to be reflected in school budgets, which is the responsibility of education departments in provinces and Ulaanbaatar. Civil society organizations and children’s rights activists recommend that the government issue guidelines requiring provincial and Ulaanbaatar education departments to allocate funds for the operation, maintenance and repair of dormitory sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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