In Niger, new sanitation programme is transforming lives through better hygiene
BANDE, Niger, February 16, 2011—Rabe Amman, 24, leads his visitors through the spotless courtyard of his family compound and past his wife who is pounding millet with her neighbours outside their thatched huts in the remote Nigerien village of Bande. He stops by a reed enclosure, which he opens to proudly show off his latest accomplishment - a new covered latrine for his family, which he built with his own hands.
“Things were unbearable in our village before,” he says. “Even finding a clean spot to sit down was a problem because human waste was everywhere. And it didn’t bother most people because they were just used to it. Now we realize just how unhygienic it was.”
However, a new UNICEF-supported sanitation programme is now helping to change behaviour and transform lives. Bande is one of the ten pilot villages in Niger where Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) has been introduced.
CLTS is a revolutionary low-cost approach to rural sanitation, where communities assess their own situation and take action to stop open defecation by building their own latrines. To achieve this, UNICEF supports Niger’s Water Supply and Sanitation Ministry in the training of several volunteers from the targeted communities on the topic of hygiene promotion and environmental sanitation.
Construction of the latrines is simple. Using local materials and labor, CLTS aims for each family to have at least one. In the first six months of the program more than 300 were built in the ten pilot villages.
The volunteers then use a participatory ‘ignition process’ to bring about a change in people’s thinking and behaviour through a simple but effective exercise that involves the whole community.
The villagers are assembled together at the village meeting place and the volunteers begin by having everyone help map out the village in the sand. First the boundaries are drawn, followed by the main thoroughfares, the homesteads and then the wells. The villagers are then asked to mark the areas they use to defecate around the village.
This exercise is followed by what is called ‘The Walk of Shame’, where the men, women and children walk around the perimeter of the village pointing out the actual different spots they use.
“This forces them to look at their own waste, smell the bad odours, the flies everywhere,” explains Community Health Volunteer, Isai Loloa.
"We are proud"
“Even the kids refuse to drink.” Says Loloa, “It didn’t bother them before but they now realize they need to embrace sanitation.”
“The community themselves are at the forefront of this programme,” explains Isaac Hama from Mali’s Ministry of Public Health. “There are no incentives. Nobody gives them anything, not even one penny. Everything they do, they do it themselves. The only thing we bring is technical support – that’s all.”
The benefits of CLTS are immediate for the communities. “Before we had the latrines we had a lot of sickness in the village—diarrhea, vomiting, eye infections and a lot of flies that were spreading the diseases,” says Aisha Asou, 35, and mother of six. “It cost us a lot in terms of health and we would have to spend money to get medical treatment. We no longer have these problems. Now our village is clean and we are proud.”