In a world where knowledge is power, every child deserves the opportunity to thrive in a safe and healthy school environment.

However, a recent report from three United Nations agencies has shed light on a sobering reality: one-third of schools worldwide lack access to drinking water and basic sanitation facilities, affecting the academic outcomes of millions of children. This issue strikes a chord with me as a journalist deeply committed to humanitarian affairs and the transformative power of education.

According to the report by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Programme (WFP), an estimated 584 million children face limited or no access to essential drinking water services at school. Shockingly, nearly half of these children reside in sub-Saharan Africa. It's a stark reminder that while we've made progress in education, significant disparities still persist.

UNESCO's Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, aptly remarked, "Students learn best in safe and healthy schools." It's a simple yet profound statement that encapsulates the essence of our responsibility towards these young minds. As a global community, we must rally behind this cause, ensuring that every child, regardless of their geographical location, has access to quality education within a supportive environment.

As the report reveals, school meals play a pivotal role in this equation, increasing enrolment and attendance rates by nine and eight percent, respectively. Moreover, deworming and micronutrient supplementation can keep children in school for an additional 2.5 years in areas with prevalent anaemia and worm infections. This underscores the importance of holistic interventions that address students' physical and nutritional needs.

Beyond nutrition, creating a violence-free learning environment is crucial. Students are 50 percent less likely to skip school when violence is eliminated and handwashing is promoted, particularly for girls during menstruation. It's an issue often overlooked but immensely significant in ensuring regular attendance and the well-being of students.

The report also delves into other critical aspects, such as promoting eye care, mental health, and preventing school violence. These measures benefit children and adolescents immensely and represent a significant return on investment for countries. For instance, every dollar invested in school feeding programs generates a remarkable $9 return.

In the heart of rural Kenya, there's a school that stands as a beacon of hope. For years, students had to make a perilous journey to fetch water from distant rivers, often risking their safety and missing out on precious learning time. However, a clean and reliable water source was established within the school compound through a collaborative effort between the local community, an international NGO, and government support. Now, children no longer embark on arduous treks for water. Instead, they have more time to focus on their studies and dreams.

In India, a region known for its rich cultural diversity, a program aimed at improving school nutrition has reaped remarkable rewards. By integrating locally sourced, nutritious ingredients into school meals, students enjoy healthier food and support local farmers. This initiative has not only boosted attendance rates but has also enhanced students' overall health and well-being.

In Ghana, a dedicated group of educators and health workers took it upon themselves to address the menstrual hygiene challenges girls in rural schools face. Through awareness campaigns, the provision of sanitary products, and the construction of safe and private hygiene facilities, girls' attendance rates soared. This success story showcases how targeted interventions can empower girls to break free from societal constraints and confidently pursue education.

UNESCO's conversation with Wezzie Kacheche, a teacher in Malawi, paints a poignant picture of the impact of comprehensive sex education. By providing students with accurate information about health and sexuality, Kacheche helps them navigate the complexities of adolescence, reducing dropouts due to early pregnancies and substance abuse. It's a testament to the power of education to transform lives, even in the face of daunting challenges.

While we've made strides in school health and nutrition globally, disparities in investment persist. The report calls for more substantial commitments from governments and support from the international community. Global investment is a mere $2 billion annually, while low- and lower-middle-income countries require $210 billion. It's an urgent call to action for governments, NGOs, and individuals alike to bridge this gap and provide critical interventions like school meals, vaccinations, deworming, and psychosocial support.

I find hope in children's resilience and educators' dedication worldwide. Our collective commitment to investing in health, nutrition, and education will undoubtedly create a brighter future for the next generation. Let us be the voice that amplifies this message and the force that drives change, ensuring that no child is left behind on the path to knowledge, health, and empowerment.