|© UNICEF Niger/2012/Dan Mallam|
|A young boy sketches a village map in the sand in Sarkin Yamma, Maradi region, Niger. The community-led total sanitation programme involves the whole community in analysis of sanitation in the village.|
By Shushan Mebrahtu
MARADI, Niger, 13 December 2012 – A year ago, recalls Ashorou Miko, 31, “We were living surrounded by human excreta. The only way to relieve ourselves was by defecating in the bushes. The stench was unbearable.”
Today, he and other residents of Kollia, a remote village in the Niger, are proud to walk us through their spotless dust streets and clean mud-brick courtyards. Every house has a covered latrine constructed by household members, themselves, using local materials.
Open defecation brings risk
In 2010, 91 per cent of the population in the rural Niger defecated in the open. The risks were many. Communities were exposed to illness. Women were forced to walk, often for hours, and in the dark, in search of privacy. Adolescent girls missed school during menses.
Children were among the most vulnerable. The two main causes of mortality among children under 5 – acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease – are closely linked to poor water, hygiene and sanitation. Repeated diarrhoea is a main cause of malnutrition.
Efforts to improve sanitation in the Niger had been focused on providing subsidies to individuals for cement and metals for the construction of latrines. This approach was expensive and often failed to ensure actual use.
“The barriers to latrine usage are many,” explains UNICEF Communication Officer Adamou Matti Dan Mallam. “Using toilets was never part of our practice. And people did not understand its importance. They preferred the simplicity and easiness of defecating in the field.”
Community-led programme changes tradition
A revolutionary community-led total sanitation (CLTS) programme, promoted by the Government of the Niger and UNICEF, is changing the practice by mobilizing communities to take action to eliminate open defecation.
CLTS shifts the focus from construction of toilets and trying to change the behaviour of individuals to investing in community mobilization to trigger collective action and communal commitment to becoming open defecation free. The goal is to replace old practices with new norms – regular use of latrines, washing hands with soap, repairing and sustaining sanitation facilities. In the process, CLTS strengthens community solidarity and support systems as those unable to build latrines for themselves are helped by others.
|© UNICEF Niger/2012/Mebrahtu|
|These public latrines were constructed by residents of Kollia village, Maradi region. Inspired by their achievement of total sanitation, community members are motivated to build latrines in marketplaces, schools and other public spaces.|
“Communities lead the change process,” explains Mr. Dan Mallam. “Men, women, children, elderly and youth gather to analyse their own sanitation and waste behaviour, map out their village in the sand, identify open-defecation spots and analyse pathways from faeces to mouth.”
The exercise makes residents realize the effects of open defecation on their health and ignites immediate action to stop the practice.
“As long as anyone in the community continues to practice open-defecation, all of us are exposed to diseases,” says Tahirou Hamidou, 60.
The gains to women and children, in particular, are paramount. “Our children were suffering from eye infection and diarrhoea. And we used to spend a lot of money on medical treatment, but, thanks to CLTS, not anymore,” says Laria Issa, 40.
Entry point for social change
The effects of CLTS go beyond improved sanitation and hygiene. It empowers communities to mobilize themselves for collective action around priorities beyond sanitation.
CLTS platforms facilitate community dialogue to share common interests, recognize common problems and find common solutions enabling communities reach a consensus and develop a vision for the well-being of the community.
In Kollia, implementing CLTS led community members to set up a health fund from which members could borrow money to pay healthcare fees. In the village of Gadiga, CLTS champions initiated a cereal bank where community members could buy millet for a subsidized price during difficult times or when harvests failed.
Head of Madarounfa Department in Maradi Abass Harou says, “Once the community is convinced and have experienced the impacts of CLTS in bringing wellness to the society, it opens the door to engage them in other issues such as education, health and nutrition.”
UNICEF, in partnership with the Government of the Niger, is implementing CLTS in 215 villages in four regions. The programme is now part of the national strategy to improve sanitation and hygiene in rural areas and will be scaled up in the coming years.