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Eco latrines improve quality of life in earthquake-affected communities in Rwanda

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010/Williams
Marinatha, 13, and friends outside her old latrine in Gihundwe, south-west Rwanda. More than 100 households in the village have benefited from new eco-san latrines.

By Alexandra Williams

GIHUNDWE, Rwanda, 15 March 2011 – A mini-revolution has taken place for vulnerable members of a small community living near Lake Kivu in the Rusizi District of south-west Rwanda, an area struck by a series of earthquakes in 2008.

Thanks to a joint initiative by the Government of Japan, UNICEF and non-governmental organization Caritas  Cyangugu, the quality of life and health of more than 100 households in the village of Gihundwe has rapidly improved through the installation of eco-san latrines. 

More accessible

Marinatha, 13, is grateful for the new latrines, which are more sanitary and convert human waste so that it can be used as fertilizer. She now has one just metres from her mud and wood home. Her old latrine was much further from her house, unhygienic and difficult to keep clean.

The difference has been immediate. “I am very happy with the new latrine as I will have privacy,” says Marinatha. “Even when it is raining I can still go to the latrine and it is close to my house.”

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010/Williams
Marinatha is pleased with her new latrine, which is just metres from her home in earthquake-affected Gihundwe, south-west Rwanda.

Rwanda has made enormous progress towards improving child survival, growth and development in earthquake-affected areas. But these positive trends have been hampered by the destruction of health, education, water and sanitation infrastructure.

In January 2009, the Government and Japan and UNICEF signed a $7.5 million agreement to rebuild the earthquake-affected western province of Rwanda. This included installing eco-san latrines.

Reaching the vulnerable

Working alongside local authorities, great care was taken to target the most vulnerable households in Gihundwe. All materials were bought locally apart from the eco-slabs, which were sourced in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

Adults in the community were also encouraged to transport local materials to the village, ensuring ownership and sustainability of the project.

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010/Williams
It is hoped the new latrines, such as this one being finished here in Gihundwe, will be the first of many in earthquake-affected western Rwanda.

Vincent de Paul from Caritas Cyangugu says that the sanitary conditions of latrines in the area are extremely poor with dire implications for the population’s health. The eco-san project aims to change this.

“It is hoped that neighbours in the community will be inspired to install similar eco-san latrines,” he says. “Since most of the communities survive through agriculture, those who have received a new latrine are also enthusiastic that they can use the manure as fertilizer for their land.”

An estimated 18 per cent fewer deaths would occur among children if they improved their hygiene practices, especially more frequent hand washing. As part of the project, disease-prevention training has been provided to people in the village.

Disease prevention

Households have been encouraged to make water washing stands close to their latrines, with a place for soap, so that hand washing becomes a habit.

Marinatha has been paying close attention, in order to take care of her new latrine and her own health.

“Although it is different and more modern than our old latrine, I have been taught how to use it and keep it clean,” she says. “I have also learned about hygiene and sanitation. This will help me and my friends from getting sick from diseases that come from bad water."

While 46 per cent of Rwanda’s population is not using improved sanitation facilities, it is hoped this eco-san latrine project in the remote south west of the country is just the beginning.

“While we are still in the process of installing just under 400 latrines in this area,  it has been a very successful project and there is still enormous demand for more eco-san latrines,” says de Paul.



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