Putting an end to open defecation in the DRC

UNICEF is supporting the DRC government in the implementation of the roadmap for the eradication of open defecation.

Jean-Marie Sangira (translated from French by Daphne Wood)
Une famille de 4 personnes devant une latrine
23 November 2020

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), about one in ten people practise open defecation, which means defecating outside – in fields, forests, rivers or on a pile of rubbish. This practice promotes the rapid spread of deadly diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, diarrhoea, intestinal parasitic infestations and undernourishment.

In the DRC, one child in five suffers from diarrhoea due in part to a lack of basic sanitation.  

Deux personnes âgées qui sourient devant leurs nouvelles latrines

“We used to (…) go to the toilet in the forest,” explain Angélique and Munsie, who live in the village of Ngaliema, more than 300 kilometres from the city of Kinshasa. “This contaminated the water and there are a lot of snakes in the forest, especially at night.”

Thanks to the national programme “Healthy Villages and Schools” supported by FCDO, USAID, the governments of Japan and Sweden and the Brussels-Capital Region, more than 11 million Congolese living in rural areas have gained access to basic sanitation.

Un groupe d'enfants devant leurs nouvelles latrines

Open defecation is also prevalent in schools, health care facilities and even in urban neighbourhoods, causing pollution of drinking water tables and the human environment. The lack of sanitation facilities in schools can deprive girls of an education because they are forced to miss school while they are menstruating. On average, a girl of menstrual age misses classes 50 days a year due to the lack of a suitable place and appropriate facilities for managing menstruation in school.

A question of toilets and behaviour

One of the biggest challenges facing the project to end open defecation is not simply to provide clean and safe toilets, but to change the behaviour of entire communities. Much of UNICEF’s work to end open defecation involves raising awareness, sharing information and stimulating behavioural change to address the gap between progress in toilet construction and their correct use.

Un homme faisant une présentation

The use of hygienic toilets is a matter of dignity, privacy, health and protection for children, especially girls. Today more than 12 million Congolese practise open defecation, but it is estimated that the population will double by 2030, making it necessary to substantially accelerate the use of toilets.

On the occasion of World Toilet Day, the DRC government launched the roadmap for the eradication of open defecation. UNICEF will support the implementation of the roadmap, targeting the provinces most vulnerable to epidemics. At a cost of approximately $0.5 (US dollars) per person, it is possible to end the practice while making substantial savings in health care costs.  The use of toilets can reduce diarrhoea, prevent malnutrition and stunted growth and many preventable diseases caused by poor sanitation.

Sanitation is essential for child survival and development, but it also improves a population’s quality of life.