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Construction of proper latrines contributes to cultural change in Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan / 2011 / Solodunova
Shakhsultan Yuldashev, 8, and his sisters draw up plans for their new toilet, built with UNICEF support in the Furkat neighbourhood in the city of Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan.

By Galina Solodunova

OSH, Kyrgyzstan, 17 March 2011 – Sanitation remains a cultural taboo in Kyrgyzstan, where it is seen as disgusting and shameful.

But after hundreds of homes burned down during violence against ethnic Uzbeks amid civil unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan last June, the issue has come to the fore.

Building new toilets

In the aftermath of the unrest, affected families have been assisted in building temporary two-room homes. But the temporary toilets, constructed with whatever was available, did not meet basic sanitation and hygiene standards. UNICEF was asked to help.

In the Furkat neighbourhood in the city of Osh, technical specialists, the community and those affected jointly identified needs.

Diloran Adbysomatova’s family was one of those helped. She lost her husband during the violence and now looks after 15 family members in her home.

She received planks of wood and nails from UNICEF, and all her family set about reconstructing their home, including installing a new toilet.

Nazokat (9) is one of the youngest members of Ms. Adbysomatova’s family. After having received hygiene awareness classes at school, she insisted on putting in a nearby water tap.

“Our teachers always tell us that we should wash our hands because otherwise worms can appear in our stomach,” Nazokat says. “At school we have washstands but in the winter, the water can freeze. At home, I want a real water tap.”

She already has an idea of where to put the tap, and the family is now discussing how to construct a sewage system for the washstand. Even here, Nazokat has contributed – by drawing a hand washing poster similar to one she has at school.

Children lead the way

Shakhsultan Yuldashev (8) has also been participating in compiling a plan for the construction of his family’s new home. He dreams of having a bathroom and toilet like the one he had when his family lived in Russia.

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan / 2010 / Estey
A young boy sits in a tent outside his burnt-out home in the Furkat neighbourhood in the city of Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan. His house was one of many destroyed during the recent conflict.

For the moment, their toilet facilities are provisionally built near the entrance to their temporary two-room home, between one of the new walls and a remaining one from their old house. The toilet was put there to keep it out of the wind during the cold winter months. But come the summer, it will smell.

The toilet is out of the wind, but it is still cold and Shakhsultan has nowhere to wash his hands. He is very enthusiastic about the building of new UNICEF-supported facilities.

Life-saving interventions

There are at least 50 outdoor public toilets in the area that urgently need similar support.

UNICEF Health Officer in Osh Dr. Zhumabubu Doskeeva says it is critical to build proper toilets, particularly in places most in need, like maternity houses, children hospitals and resuscitation sections.

“This does not only improve the general conditions of the patients’ health, it is a life-saving intervention,” Dr. Doskeeva says.

It is difficult to imagine a woman who has just given birth having to use outdoor public toilets. But this is still a reality in many areas of Kyrgyzstan.

Dr. Doskeeva says it is also crucial to improve latrine facilities at schools.

Where work is already taking place, there is increasing awareness and discussion of the crucial benefits of good hygiene and sanitation.

And it is the children themselves, already knowledgeable about good practice, who are proving to be instrumental agents of change within their families and communities.



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