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Eritrea, January 2015: More people living in communities free from open defecation

© UNICEF Eritrea/2014/Worth
Mrs Fatma proudly displays her family latrine complete with solar powered light bulb!

ASMARA, Eritrea, January 2015 – Mrs. Fatma stands proudly by her family’s latrine and eagerly shows visitors the clean and private space that now affords her and her family some dignity. The new latrine has had a major impact on the lives of Mrs. Fatma and her four children.

This is just one of the household latrines in the Firdigy Village in the Anseba Region of Eritrea. The village was declared open defecation free (ODF) in 2011. To achieve this status, every household in the village must have its own latrine and stop defecating in the open. Firdigy Village received a certificate from the Ministry of Health acknowledging its achievement of ODF status. A large billboard at the entrance of the village also proudly states this fact in the local Tigre language and even invites visitors to feel free to use Firdigy’s latrines!

This village, and many like it, have been transformed under the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme which was adopted by the Government of Eritrea (GoSE) in 2008. With UNICEF’s support, the Ministry of Health implements the programme nationwide which includes empowering communities to make their own decisions about design and construction of household latrines and make the shift to a clean and healthy village environment.

Open defecation, the practice of using any available land as a toilet in the absence of latrines, is a common practise in Eritrea. The latest government figures indicate that as of 2010 only 3.5 per cent of the rural population had access to the use of a latrine which means over 96 per cent of people are practising dangerously unhygienic and undignified open defecation.

The CLTS programme helps communities realise their unhygienic practices and raises the awareness of the individual communities to the dangers of open defecation as well as challenging the taboo of discussing where people go to the toilet. CLTS has had a major impact in many countries worldwide and in Eritrea especially, the response of communities to the challenge of ending open defecation and constructing a latrine for each household has been taken up enthusiastically.

Mrs Fatma and her family explain to visitors how the first latrine pit they constructed collapsed in the crumbling soils of the area. The family overcame this difficulty by reinforcing the new pit with the innovative idea of using a ring of old truck tyres to support the soil in the pit. The latrine design also uses an ‘off set” pit which means the latrine itself is not constructed directly above the pit but slightly to the side and connected by a short length of pipe. This allows for a cheaper, simpler design of latrine platform. The latrine also includes a solar powered light bulb for night time use.

Mrs Fatma and her family are very proud to show us their latrine and explain how much of an impact it has had on their lives; on the cleanliness of their compound and village and their dignity as they no longer have to look for “somewhere to go” out of view of other villagers.

The family also proudly shows visitors around the village and introduces visitors to other households with their own latrines. Whilst every household has its own design and construction, there are many similarities which again shows the strength of the community bonds and how they work together to share ideas and ensure their village is clean and healthy. Communities in Eritrea display a particularly strong sense of working together and participation in communal projects, evident in the success of the CLTS programme.

© UNICEF Eritrea/2014/Worth
A road sign declaring the surround community’s ODF status & welcoming passers-by to use their latrines!

Under the CLTS programme UNICEF also supports the Ministry of Health at local level to follow up with all villages and to monitor the sustainability of the ODF status, providing support wherever necessary to ensure that the village is able to maintain its status and clean environment.

Almost 600 villages in Eritrea have achieved ODF status since the UNICEF-supported CLTS programme was adopted by GoSE in 2008. This equates to around 586,000 people who now have access to a latrine representing approximately 30 per cent of the rural population of Eritrea. UNICEF is currently working the GoSE to conduct assessments to provide updated data on the sanitation coverage in Eritrea ahead of the MDG targets in 2015.

In the meantime, the CLTS programme continues across Eritrea where many more families like that of Mrs Fatma, in many more villages will be able to benefit from the improvements in health that comes from the increased awareness and confidence to address the taboo of open defecation.

 

 
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