Case Study

School WASH Programmes in Bangladesh: How much does it cost?

M. Snehalatha
C. Fonseca
M. Rahman
R. Uddin
M. Ahmed
A. Joy Sharif
Publication Year:
April 28, 2020
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation

This study has sought to apply a life-cycle costs approach (LCCA) to the sanitation and hygiene activities undertaken in 117 schools in six selected upazilas out of the 245 upazilas where the BRAC WASH in schools programme operates.


Executive Summary

This study has sought to apply a life-cycle costs approach (LCCA) to the sanitation and hygiene activities undertaken in 117 schools in six selected upazilas out of the 245 upazilas where the BRAC WASH in schools programme operates. These schools have received different funds from different sources over the years for their water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, as well as education and training on behavioural change. This study aims to clarify what has been achieved with the investments made – including the investments of the students and the schools themselves. 

The purpose of this study is to improve the implementation of the WASH programme in schools by BRAC, to use evidence to influence other stakeholders in the sector to improve their programmes and to inform the post-Millennium Development Goals discussions on monitoring services in schools.  

The main objectives of the study were:

  1. To develop and test a robust methodology to assess service levels in schools by developing water and sanitation service criteria that can also be adopted by wider WASH in schools programmes, both for monitoring and value for money studies.
  2. To understand the life-cycle costs of water and sanitation activities in schools where BRAC is implementing the WASH in schools programme.
  3. To study the relationship (if any) between costs of investment and maintenance and the service levels provided for WASH in schools.
  4. To assess the operation and maintenance costs and capital maintenance costs requirements in schools for interventions to reach at least a basic service level (indicative benchmark).


The life-cycle costs approach is a methodology developed by the WASHCost project, led by IRC, to explore the disaggregated costs of ensuring delivery of adequate, equitable and sustainable WASH services to a population in a specified area. The LCCA allows practitioners to: a) quantify the initial capital hardware costs of putting the sanitation infrastructure in place and the software costs of creating the demand for these services, b) quantify the ongoing costs of maintaining, supporting and sustaining behaviour change over time, and c) understand the value for money of each dollar invested. This study presents the first adaptation of the life-cycle costs approach to school WASH interventions. The BRAC WASH programme has a solid track record of monitoring indicators and cost records across Bangladesh, which was necessary to test and develop a robust methodology. 

The BRAC school WASH programme started in 2007 in the educational institutes with two intervention protocols: (i) providing partial monetary support for construction of sanitary latrines in selected secondary level girls’ or co-education institutes with a higher proportion of female students, and (ii) offering health education related to water, sanitation and hygiene to the students, teachers and staff of all the institutes selected under the intervention area. IRC has been a knowledge partner of BRAC WASH since 2005, providing technical assistance on monitoring, learning, supporting innovation in programme implementation and knowledge management. Value for money studies is one of the areas of support.

With the aim of having separate latrines for girls in schools BRAC WASH has installed 4,968 latrines in 245 upazilas till September 2014. BRAC WASH trained 47,928 teachers and students during this period. The 117 schools which were selected for the sample include secondary schools for girls and co-education schools where there were no separate toilet facilities for girls or poor facilities before the intervention of the BRAC WASH School programme. 

The school service level framework developed by the research team evaluates the water, sanitation and hygiene services provided using six criteria:

  1. Access – The number of students per latrine, with separation for boys and girls.
  2. Use – The safe use of latrines, water and soap available for handwashing.
  3. Reliability – Clean latrines, availability of products for regular maintenance.
  4. Drinking water available – Availability of safe drinking water.
  5. Environmental protection – Faecal waste and wastewater safely disposed.
  6. Menstrual hygiene management – Availability of pads for emergencies and facilities for disposal of used napkins.


These criteria have been scored in a four-level service “ladder”: from “no service”, to “substandard”, to “basic” and finally “improved”, depending on their status. Achieving a basic level is considered a good benchmark.

The study found that fulfilling all the six criteria is a challenge for schools in Bangladesh.

From the 117 schools only 28 schools (24%) have scored “basic” on all the six criteria. 60% had at least one criterion in the “no service” category and the remaining 16% had at least one criterion under sub-standard. There was no school which has scored “improved” on all the criteria.

The most difficult to reach was the access criterion, namely the number of students per latrine, which is related to the amount of money spent on constructing and maintaining the facilities. About 30 percent of the schools had separate boys and girls toilets but the number of students per toilet was between 50 and 76, while 23 percent of schools are in the improved category which means that the number of students per toilet meets the Bangladesh standard (1 toilet for 50 students).

In almost half the schools in the sample it has been observed that latrines are used by students and teachers on most occasions and that 41% of schools have the facilities available for handwashing with water and soap. The schools with a sub-standard service lack both water for anal cleansing and soap. “No service” means that although the toilets were there, facilities were not being used because they were not functional or the students preferred to use the newer facilities. Most of the schools had clean and well-maintained toilets demonstrating a visible impact of the BRAC WASH programme.

After systems have been implemented in schools and tested once, the water quality has not been tested again in any of the 117 schools. There were only five schools with public tap water which means that the service provided is at best “basic” for the majority of the schools, but cannot be considered safe.

Around 35 percent of schools are openly dumping faecal sludge from the toilets creating water pollution and spread of diseases. 21 percent of the schools have an improved service level, these schools have a schedule for pit emptying and are safely disposing of the faecal sludge without causing any pollution.

Given that BRAC supported the schools in the study with menstrual hygiene facilities for girls ensuring that a covered waste bin is available inside the toilets for disposal of pads, it is no surprise to find that 96% of the schools have facilities available for the bulk disposal of napkins. 

The support to hardware for the remaining school interventions is not part of the programme and limited (water quality, waste management, etc.) and this criterion has a lower overall score.

Different combinations of criteria were tested, but the number of toilets available in the schools is simply not sufficient for the total number of students. Adequate “access” therefore indicates how the schools in the sample have scored. In Bangladesh, the construction of more facilities is required because the existing ones are simply not enough for the number of students.

In this study, expenditure data was analysed for capital expenditure (hardware and software), operational expenditure, capital maintenance expenditure and direct support costs. The research team has examined the costs dating back to 60 years ago. No information was available for expenditure on indirect support and the costs of capital. The study found that schools that had lower costs for construction and lower costs for maintenance are providing a lower level of service to their students.

In total (and not per year), the costs per student of all the capital hardware and software expenditure on water and sanitation were Taka 587 per student (US$ 8). Overall, the BRAC programme contributes with Taka 103 per student (US$ 1.3) while the remaining costs were borne by the schools.

The main expenditure on operational maintenance relates mostly to costs for hygiene, followed by menstrual hygiene management, energy and minor repairs of the facilities.  Costs related to water treatment were only reported in 14 schools. The overall operational maintenance costs are Taka 48 per student per year (US$ 0.6) which is relatively low and shows that most maintenance which requires cash expenditure is not really taking place (i.e. providing safe water, faecal sludge and waste water treatment).

Capital maintenance expenditure, which reflects maintenance and irregular repairs, was mostly spent on pit emptying, upgrading the tube wells, replacing motors and pipes, painting the facilities and expanding the handwashing facilities. Considering that these costs started being reported mostly 10-15 years ago, the overall median per school for pit emptying is Taka 540 (US$ 7) for every time it occurs, while the total capital maintenance expenditure over the years is Taka 2000 per school (US$ 26) and Taka 8 per student (US$ 0.1). The research team found that many facilities were broken down and new ones were built over the last 5-10 years, which might explain the high capital costs and the lower capital maintenance expenditure.

The salaries of the BRAC staff make up most of the direct support costs. In total, it is estimated that the direct support costs are about Taka 9,223 per school per year (US$ 118) or Taka 41 per student per year (US$ 0.5). From these, Taka 51 per school per year (US$ 0.7) is spent on materials and leaflets for ongoing sensitisation meetings in schools. It was not possible to capture the time costs spent by the government and other partners in the schools over the years.

If only the schools that have achieved a basic service level are taken into consideration, benchmark costs indicate that at least Taka 814  per student (US$ 10) needs to be spent on capital expenditure for both water and sanitation facilities in schools (including disposal and menstrual hygiene management) and at least Taka 108 per student per year (US$ 1.4) needs to be spent on all recurrent costs, of which the  continuous direct support to hygiene promotion activities and training of students and teacher brigades is absolutely critical to ensure sustainability of facilities and behaviours.

In only 25% of the schools the investments made have led to a basic service level. In the remaining 75%, the investments have failed to achieve their “good intentions”. This failure to achieve a basic level of service has many causes, not only financial, but it is clear that these schools have also failed to meet a required level of capital and recurrent costs.

For each Taka that BRAC invests per student on infrastructure construction (capital expenditure) for WASH facilities, the schools invest Taka 8. For recurrent costs, every year, for each Taka that BRAC invests to support the hygiene and menstrual hygiene management behaviour changes, the schools and students invest 2.5 times on major and minor maintenance of infrastructure ensuring its sustainability.

The major aspects that require attention to improve service levels in the schools in the sample are: the number of (separate) toilets for girls and boys, how the waste from the toilets is being disposed of and testing the quality of the water being provided to the students. BRAC WASH intends to find strategies to increase the collaboration with the Government and other funding agencies to expand the programme and intervention approach further, using the cost benchmarks derived from the study. 

The BRAC WASH programme contributes only to some components of the school programmes. Parents, students and other development partners also contribute to the development of some of the school components, but overall the programmes could be more holistic and coordinated ensuring that all the elements for providing a water, sanitation and hygiene service in a school are monitored. The method for assessing service levels using six criteria or indicators will give insight into which schools will need more efforts to improve the overall WASH services provided to children and which other partners need to be sensitised to take the necessary actions for improving the conditions in the schools.

This study demonstrates and tests some of the criteria and indicators that can be used to measure service levels in schools.  In the post-Millennium Development Goals discussions it has been recognised that future global water, sanitation and hygiene targets must extend beyond household level and include a wide range of settings including schools, workplaces, markets, transit hubs, health centres, etc. Schools and health centres are at the top of the priority list because of the potential health benefits to a large number of children and adults. Specifically, handwashing and menstrual hygiene management are considered to be universal priorities to be reached by 2030 so that girls are given the same opportunities and access to education as boys.

Adopting a service delivery and life-cycle costs approach to monitor services in schools can lead to better decision making while planning for sustainable school WASH interventions. It is expected that other researchers and teams working on monitoring in schools can provide further insight and feedback on the proposed indicators that inform the post-Millennium Development Goals discussions.


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