Mozambique, 21 July: Communities lead the way to safe sanitation
By Shantha Bloemen
DEWE, Mozambique, 21 July 2011 – Village leader Chingore Manuel Mabeto, 65, remembers the frequency with which cholera outbreaks used to strike his community’s young and elderly residents.
As a proud grandfather of 12, many who stay with him in a compound of mud brick houses, he knows first-hand how perilous such outbreaks can be for young children, especially if they are also undernourished.
In Mozambique, like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, water-borne diseases caused by poor sanitation are still amongst the top killers of children under the age of five. These children are especially vulnerable to diarrhoeal dehydration.
But in Mr. Mabeto’s village of Dewe, a community of just over 800 people in the farming province of Manica, central Mozambique, a quiet but dramatic transformation is taking place. In the last year, every family in the village has built a toilet that they now use.
This community approach to sanitation has dramatically reduced cases of waterborne illness. In villages like Dewe that are also declared free of open defecation, diarrhoea cases have been reduced dramatically.
Just over a year ago, Mr. Mabeto hosted a visit by officials from the Provincial Public Works Department and UNICEF, who asked him to gather the community for a demonstration. In what is called a ‘triggering exercise,’ the visitors illustrated the dangers of contact with faeces by mixing it with food and water.
With a simple but dramatic revelation that their own health was intrinsically tied to sanitation, each of Dewe’s 159 families started work on building its own toilet using mud bricks, wooden planks and other readily available materials.
“We sat down as leaders and studied, and then we built latrines,” Mr. Mabeto explains as he visits one family to inspect theirs. “Now no one goes to the bush,” he adds. “By doing this, sickness has already been reduced.”
The flexibility afforded by using easily available building materials meant that cost would not be the excuse. “Many families would prefer to use concrete instead of wooden planks for the floor, but it is expensive,” noted Mr. Mabeto.
The toilet he is inspecting has mud brick walls and a wooden plank base, sealed with soil and a removable lid to keep out flies. Outside, a water container sits on a wooden stand with a small cup and piece of soap. Mr. Mabeto checks the toilet to see how clean it is and reminds the children in the household to wash their hands with soap after using it.
‘One Million Initiative’
Dewe is just one of hundreds of communities, scattered across three provinces in Mozambique, that have been declared open-defecation-free. They are part of an ambitious plan – the ‘One Million Initiative’ – which is transforming the way poor, rural communities think about sanitation.
With $45 million in funding from the Government of the Netherlands, the Government of Mozambique and UNICEF, the programme is targeting 18 districts in three provinces of Manica, Sofala and Tete. It is already closing in on its 2013 target of providing 1 million Mozambicans with access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
“The aim of this initiative is to not only reach a million people but shift the whole approach to how the country does rural sanitation,” says Dr. Samuel Godfrey, UNICEF Mozambique’s Chief of Water and Sanitation.
This focus on transforming attitudes towards open defecation is tied to improving overall health, because it relies on everyone in a community – not just a few fortunate households – using toilets.
On a sunny day, Mr. Mabeto, dressed in his best shirt and jacket, makes the journey 3 km down the main road from his rural homestead to the nearby hotel and conference centre. For the first time in his life, he enters as a guest.
He and hundreds of other community leaders are being acknowledged for their efforts to rid their villages of open defecation. Along with the others, Mr. Mabeto shakes hands with Minister of Public Works and Housing Cadmiel Muthemba and collects his certificate.
This award ceremony, now held annually, reinforces each community’s important contribution to improving not only its own health but that of the country as a whole. The community-led approach has been adopted as part of the national sanitation plan, and other development partners are signing on, helping to ensure that it will become the standard across Mozambique.
More stories on WASH
Sanitation for all