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Improving sanitation in Sorong, West Papua

KLAMALU, West Papua -20 September 2008 – In knee-high gumboots, Paulinus Klasjok slips and slides through the swampy grass that is his backyard, on his way to visit the household latrine. The little wooden hut is set well back from his family’s traditional stilt house, sitting on the edge of his property where the land falls away into a muddy creek. The latrine itself isn’t much: the walls are made of recycled wood and held together with rusty nails, a used oil drum has been recycled into a septic tank, and thick pieces of bamboo have been turned into pipe. But for Paulinus and his family, this latrine is a source of great pride, because it is one of the first to have been built in Klamalu as part of UNICEF’s Total Community Led Sanitation (TCLS) program.

In this small village of only 500 people, UNICEF is working to change the community’s hygiene and sanitation practices, which have remained the same for hundreds of years. Until recently, there were no latrines or sanitation facilities at all in Klamalu; instead, the villagers would defecate in the nearby river or in the bushes around their homes. With no outside water source, they catch rainwater in open barrels for drinking and rely on the river or shallow-dug wells for all their other water – sources which are nearly always contaminated. Because of these things, diarrhea is rife in Klamalu, and claims several lives each year.

But through community education about safe sanitation, UNICEF is helping the villagers to change their dangerous behaviours. Wildan Setiabudi, a Water and Sanitation Officer from UNICEF’s Sorong office who is working on the project, says the idea is to convince the villagers of the need for them to change their behaviours.

“The TCLS program is not about giving people money or supplies, it is about giving them information and training,” Wildan says, “We teach them about safe sanitation practises like using latrines and proper handwashing, and tell them why these things are important for their health and the health of their communities.

“But then it is up to them to actually make the changes and build the infrastructure, UNICEF doesn’t do it for them. This is important because the villagers need to take responsibility for their own hygiene and sanitation, they have to want to make changes.”

Clean hands for better health
Using information as a tool to change people’s behaviour is a key part of UNICEF’s work, and it is also the main idea behind the first Global Handwashing Day, to be held on October 15 this year. On that day, school children around the world will participate in the biggest-ever handwashing event, drawing attention to the value of handwashing with soap as a way of reducing diarrhea, pneumonia and other preventable disease.

The day’s global activities will build on the work already underway in communities like Klamalu, where handwashing is a key part of the CLTS program. Villagers are taught to wash their hands with soap at several key times: after using the toilet, after cleaning a child’s bottom or any other contact with human excreta, and before any contact with food. Global Handwashing Day will ensure this same message is heard around the world, so that more families in more villages can also change their behaviour.            



Turning knowledge into action
Of course, in poor communities like Klamalu, behaviour change needs to be supported by improvements in infrastructure, which is why Wildan and his colleagues also give the villagers practical advice on how to build safe latrines and other infrastructure. 

“We teach them what a safe latrine is, how far it should be from their homes and how to ensure there is no contamination or leaking, and then we encourage them to use their own wisdom and materials to make them,” he said.   

“A lot of villagers have adapted things which are cheap and easily available, like bamboo instead of plastic pipe, and wood instead of concrete for latrine covers. This is good because it means the cost is very affordable for them, and if something breaks, they can just replace it.”

Paulinus’ latrine is a great example of this – he gathered almost all the materials from around his village, getting wood from the jungle and borrowing old nails from his neighbours. “The only thing I had to buy was the slab and bowl, that cost me around Rp 100,000 (US$11) so it was not too expensive,” Paulinus said.

Since attending the UNICEF education sessions, he has become an enthusiastic advocate of the CLTS program, and now encourages other villagers to build their own latrines too.

“I went to a UNICEF training session about hygiene practices and I learned that open defecation causes diarrhea. So I think now it is important to change the way we do things and not allow people to defecate in the open any more.

“I installed a latrine here for my family, and we have also made a rule in the village that no-one is allowed to defecate in the river anymore. I think it is working, because now is the season for diarrhea but this year it has been reduced, less people have been sick.”

Harvesting the skies
Since the program started in late 2007, several villagers have now built their own latrines. The community has also banned open defecation, and installed signs around the village reminding people about handwashing and safe sanitation. With the behaviour change effort now well underway, UNICEF is about to start the second phase of the program, which involves helping the villagers to develop new infrastructure for clean water supply.

UNICEF Indonesia/2008
With rainwater harvesting, the villagers can turn a nuisance into a precious water source

“Rainwater is very plentiful here so we want to help the villagers build new tanks for collecting and storing that water safely,” Wildan said. “We will provide five or six moulds and all the materials and the villagers will provide their labour to make the tanks. Our target is to build 100 tanks, which would mean every house will have one.”

There is still much work to be done in Klamalu, but the biggest battle - that of changing people’s attitudes towards sanitation - seems well on the way to being won. With villagers like Paulinus leading the way from within the community, Klamalu is now working towards a safer, healthier way of life.         





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