Eco-san latrines bring improved quality of life and health to earthquake affected communities in South West Rwanda
By Alexandra Williams
November 2010, Gihundwe Village, Rusizi District
On a wet and muddy hill, not far from the tranquillity of sparkling Lake Kivu, where a series of earthquakes struck in February 2008, some of the poorest members of this community, including households headed up by children, widows and the elderly are experiencing a small revolution in their daily lives. Thanks to a joint initiative by the Government of Japan, UNICEF and Caritas Cyangugu, the quality of life and health of over 100 households has rapidly improved through the installation of eco-san latrines.
Marinatha is full of life and fun. Thirteen years old, she is grateful for the new eco-san latrine, situated just metres from her mud and wood home. Her old latrine was much further from the house, very unhygienic and difficult to keep clean. The new latrine makes her impoverished life a lot easier. She loves school and talking about her favourite subject – chemistry – which makes all her friends laugh. But most of her spare time is spent collecting firewood and fetching water.
"I am very happy with the new latrine as I will have privacy. Even when it is raining I can still go to the latrine and it is close to my house. Although it is different and more modern than our old latrine, I have been taught how to use it and keep it clean - and also how to make use of the manure and urine – to improve the farming on our plot of land – I have also learned about hygiene and sanitation. This will help me and my friends from getting sick from diseases that come from bad water!", she smiles.
While Rwanda has made enormous progress improving child survival, growth and development, in earthquake affected areas, these positive trends have been undermined by the destruction of health, education, water and sanitation infrastructure. In January 2009, the Government and Japan and UNICEF signed an agreement for US$ 7.5 million to rebuild the earthquake affected western province of Rwanda.
Working alongside local authorities, great care was taken to target the most vulnerable households. All materials were bought locally apart from the eco-slabs which were sourced in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Adults were also encouraged to transport the local materials to the village, ensuring ownership and sustainability of the project.
As Vincent de Paul from Caritas Cyangugu explains: "The sanitary conditions of latrines in this area are extremely poor with implications for the populations’ health. It is hoped that neighbours in the community will be inspired to install similar eco-san latrines. Since most of the communities survive through agriculture, those who have received a new latrine are also very happy and enthusiastic that they can use the manure as fertilizer for their land. While we are still in the process of installing just under 400 latrines in this area – it has been a very successful project and there is still normous demand for more eco-san latrines".
Nkombo Island is ten minutes from mainland in a dug out canoe. The island also suffered severe damage during the 2008 earthquake.
David is 72 years, with two wives. He likes to sit in his compound under the banana tree and watches his three year old son Byiringiro play. He remembers exactly what he was doing that fateful morning when the earthquake struck. It completely destroyed his home.
Through generous assistance he has been able to rebuild it but is also extremely grateful for the new eco-san latrine used by all members of his household. Another important dimension of the eco-san latrine project has been the trainings provided to the community on improved hygiene and sanitation, preventing the spread of disease. It is estimated that 18 per cent fewer deaths would occur amongst children with improved hygiene practice, especially more frequent hand washing. Households have been encouraged tomake water washing stands, with a place for soap, close to the latrine, so that the washing of hands becomes a habit.
While 55 per cent of Rwanda’s population are still unable to access improved sanitation facilities, the beneficiaries of this eco-san latrine project in the remote south west of the country are enjoying a remarkable improvement in their quality of life and health.