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Malawi, November 2016: Making traditional leadership work for sanitation

© UNICEF Malawi/2016/Phwitiko
Senior Chief Dzoole is proof that traditional leaders are not just custodians of culture, but potential drivers of change.

By Rebecca Phwitiko

DOWA, Malawi, November 2016 – “Not too long ago people of this area had the idea that toilets were a privilege, to be used only by the rich in society,” says Senior Group Village Headman (GVH) Chimanda of Traditional Authority (TA) Chakhaza in Dowa. Each village has some 30-50 households but it was quite normal to find only three or four latrines in a village. It is no wonder therefore that the fields were full of feces, lying in the open.

Senior GVH Chimanda says diarrhea and even cholera were persistent problems that the people failed to link to their unsanitary practices. A UK Aid-funded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme, managed by UNICEF Malawi, partnered with Concern Universal to promote good hygiene practices and improve the water and sanitation facilities coverage in Dowa and other districts. The UK Aid programme covers 10 districts across the country.

“When they came, they told us latrines were a requirement for every household, that it is important not just to have a latrine but that we use it and cover it after use. We took it up as our responsibility to bring this message to our people,” says Senior GVH Chimanda. When UNICEF’s partner Concern Universal began the implementation in Dowa there was some resistance in the beginning but the chiefs developed by-laws to enforce good hygiene practices. Each chief was responsible for the behavior of his subjects and would go around the villages to ensure that each household had a latrine. In some cases a chief would actually start digging a pit latrine just to shame the household into getting one done quickly.

At the start of the DFID funded programme there were only 7,489 latrines in the area of TA Chakhaza. But now there are 18,567 latrines, and the programme has constructed 95 new water points and rehabilitated 119. Through its partnership with Government of Malawi, UNICEF has supported the promotion of Community Led Total Sanitation, triggering communities in 15 TAs across the country to adopt good sanitation and hygiene practices.

© UNICEF Malawi/2016/Phwitiko
Abigail and other members of the village sanitation committee sensitize the community on the importance of having a latrine, using it and making sure it is well covered.

In April 2016, TAs Chakhaza and Kayembe celebrated a newly attained Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. In the 690 villages within these two TAs every household now has a latrine that they use. “We can see the evidence that people are actually using the latrines, the fields are free of feces and we no longer hear of people dying of preventable diarrhea,” says GVH Chimanda.

About 20km away from senior GVH Chimanda’s area, Senior Chief Dzoole tells a similar tale of how community leaders can use their influence to bring about positive changes. Diarrhea affected the productivity of the people. There were funerals all over the place, people dying of preventable diseases that were caused by poor sanitation and hygiene. This programme has changed the situation completely and it has taken the joint commitment of community leaders and the people themselves to be able to have a latrine in each household.

Senior Chief Dzoole’s area attained ODF status in July 2016. When the programme was introduced in his area, he gave his people three months to construct latrines in their households. A committee was set up to ensure that this regulation was respected. This encouraged the people to do the work quickly as no one wanted to go against chief’s orders.

They used the culture and perceptions of the people to get results. “Anyone who didn’t have a latrine in their household was forbidden from attending funerals. This became a motivating factor since people don’t want to stay away from a funeral because they believe it is a bad omen,” says Senior Chief Dzoole.

Abigail Kaomba is a member of one of the village sanitation committees in the area of Senior Chief Dzoole and she says apart from the sanitation considerations the latrine gives them some dignity. “It’s embarrassing if you are defecating out in the open and then you meet your neighbors, or even your children out there in the bushes. Everyone needs a latrine.”



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