Better hygiene, better lives: Improving sanitary conditions at a collective centre makes day-to-day life easier for IDPs
By Sarah Marcus for UNICEF Georgia
The majority of the displaced were rehoused in new settlements of purpose-built cottage-style homes rapidly constructed by the Georgian government following the conflict. Some 8,000 other internally displaced people (IDPs), like the 61 families living in a former sanatorium near the village of Saguramo outside the Georgian capital Tbilisi, chose to stay in collective centres – disused or specially cleared state buildings like schools refurbished to accommodate IDPs.
Although the Georgian authorities did their best to make the living conditions for IDPS as good as possible, hygiene and sanitation problems were still present in most of the places these people settled. Poor living conditions also contributed to inadequate hygiene practices among IDPs, especially among children.
UNICEF in partnership with the Swedish Development Agency, Action Contre Le Faim, the International Rescue Committee, the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation, the Municipal Development Fund of the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure and the Water Supply Regional Development Agency stepped in to establish a project which would improve the water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in 37 new settlements and 23 collective centres.
At the Saguramo centre, the state of the water and toilets was terrible, said Nato Chavchavadze, head of the Saguramo centre’s specially created Committee, which aims to oversee and improve hygienic conditions and practice there. Such committees were created in all of the communities targeted by the project.
‘You could not turn the taps off properly so the water dripped constantly, keeping us awake at night and causing wastage. But worse than that was the fact that the sewage system was inadequate and when we flushed the toilets raw sewage came out into the yard in front of the building,’ she explained.
Like at the Saguramo centre, quick fixes to problems such as the dripping taps have been carried across the targeted communities and IDPs have been trained in basic plumbing and water system management. While the water supply and quality was always adequate at Saguramo, the project has addressed problems in these areas in other communities and will continue testing water quality in 2010.
At Saguramo, a crucial part of the work carried out under the project is the construction of a new septic tank which will process sewage properly and end the IDP families’ nightmare of seeing waste from their toilets spill out onto the ground in front of where they live.
‘It is horrible. And of course no one can let their children play out there because of the sewage problem,’ said Kvicha Chavchavadze, the leader of the collective centre community.
Fortunately, the problem is due to be resolved in the coming months as the project partners have already chosen a contractor for the construction of a septic tank and are waiting for improved weather to begin work.
Another key part of the project as it was implemented in all the targeted locations was training on hygiene and waste management and provision of hygiene items through a voucher system. Hygiene promotion activities were also run at schools hosting IDP children.
It’s clear that this part of the project has made a real difference to the Saguramo community.
Each family was given a voucher worth 60 Georgian Lari ($35) to purchase hygiene products at local shops with which prior arrangements were made to accept the vouchers.
Throughout the targeted communities the most-needed hygienic products were identified, with a particular focus on those needed by vulnerable groups including children and pregnant women.
Hygiene training was aimed at both adults and children, with the water, sanitation and hygiene committees encouraged to be active in spreading knowledge of good practices throughout their communities.
‘You know what the conditions are like for IDPs in collective centres like this,’ said Nato Chavchavadze.
‘Hygiene can be poor and so there is a danger of water-borne diseases breaking out – this has not happened here but we have heard of it happening in other IDP centres. That is why we had training on how to avoid this problem and we were very happy with this,’ she explained.
At Saguramo Action Contre Le Faim and UNICEF ran training for mothers of one to six year olds on good hygiene practices and how to guard against H1N1, scabies and diarrhoea.
In addition, and like in other targeted communities, a comprehensive drive was launched to teach the children living at the Saguramo centre about how to keep themselves and their surroundings clean and safe.
‘I really enjoyed the training because I learnt many things: that you should care about the environment, that you should brush your teeth three times a day and that you should wash your hands after using the toilet, or playing outside, or coming back from school,’ said Ana Katseleshvili, 12.
No doubt the children will show the same enthusiasm when taking part in further planned training and hygiene education. The partners intend to put on a show about hygiene for small children, to run training for teenagers and to involve all the young people in clearing up the area around the building when the weather is fine.
The life of the internally displaced people at Saguramo is not easy – like most of the IDPs living in the other communities targeted by the project, they have few employment opportunities and the land they try to farm on is poor. Their sanitary conditions still need improvement – among other issues is that of the absence of hot water in the building, said Kvicha Chavchavadze. Everyone in the community wishes they could be provided with water heaters, he said.
But at Saguramo and in other targeted communities the work of the project means a lot. Different measures have been taken in different communities, among them improved water supply and quality, the construction of better toilet facilities and the improvement of drainage systems. Hygiene awareness and good practice has been addressed everywhere. For the IDPs at Saguramo and elsewhere the improvements to their hygiene conditions have made their lives a little less difficult, and for that they are very grateful.