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For over six months now, in 21 schools spread over seven countries in the African continent, the subject of water and sanitation has become part of the school curricula.  Not in a dry, bookish sort of way but in a manner that helps children relate the need to conserve water and their curricula.

Sample this : Class nine students of book-keeping are being taught about the effect non-payment of water bills have on the solvency of a water company.  Class three students learn about the need to conserve water and the importance of community sharing through simple mathematical problems.

Sharing these examples and the entire value-based approach which has been adopted for water education was Victor-Krishna Kanu, the director of the African Institute of Sathya Sai Education and an economist in his own right.

Kanu is in the Capital to participate in the two-day regional consultation on water and sanitation for Asian cities, organised jointly by the UN Human Settlement Programme (UN Habitat), the Asian Development Bank and the Union ministry of urban development and poverty alleviation.

The promotion of water-education as a pilot project among 42 schools in seven African countries Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and South Africa-came about following a decision taken by an expert group constituted by UN Habitat to adopt a human-values based approach to water education in Africa, says Kanu, and this approach is just part of the larger Water for African Cities Programme which was launched by UN-habitat in October 1999.

Apart from introducing water education through the curricula the project is also aiming to develop learning material, train the teachers and educate the community.  Why was a value-based approach adopted ? Kanu draws attention to the increasing pressures of population, urbanisation and a consumerist lifestyle and the erosion of human values.

"While the urban poor are denied minimal access to safe water, we see profligate waste, rampant corruption, vandalism and riots in our cities associated with water shortages and poor sanitation," says Kanu.  Citing an example, Kanu notes that in an affluent Johannesburg neighbourhood, a family uses nearly 200 litres of water simply for washing the car and watering the lawns.  compare this to the mere 20 litres of water available to an average family in a neighbouring settlement.