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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Empowering communities to improve sanitation in Sierra Leone

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2009/Bamford
Kadiatu, 42, stands outside the new community-built latrine in Saahun village, Sierra Leone.

By Emily Bamford

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 25 February 2009 – Until recently, Kadiatu’s children had regularly suffered from diarrhoea and other diseases related to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation facilities. Such bouts with illness led to missed school days and constant visits to the local hospital, which added additional strains to an already overstretched household.

“Because our house is near the bushes, there used to be faeces everywhere,” recalls Kadiatu. “It was so bad we couldn’t even sit outside, because of the smell and flies.”

These days, such sanitation issues are a thing of the past for the 42-year-old single mother of four. Now she proudly displays the latest addition to her household in Saahun village – a latrine built by members of her community, with help from UNICEF.

Community-based approach
In September 2008, UNICEF partnered with an international non-governmental organization to introduce community-led total sanitation, or CLTS, to Saahun.

This new approach relies on community leaders to advocate for improvements in sanitation, using local materials to construct their own latrines in order to end the practice of open defecation.

UNICEF has been at the forefront of CLTS in Sierra Leone since the project’s inception. This commitment is needed because subsidised public latrine projects often fail when facilities quickly fall into disrepair or are ‘reserved’ for prominent individuals and visitors to the community.

UNICEF believes CLTS is one of the most effective and sustainable methods of ensuring that sanitation interventions succeed in reaching whole communities.

Sustainable interventions

On 25 November 2008, Saahun village was declared open-defecation-free, meaning that the entire community is now using latrines. The event was followed by community-wide celebrations. The villagers’ pride is still evident as families greet visitors and invite them to visit the household latrines.

Thanks to UNICEF and its partners, CLTS is now being implemented across Sierra Leone, where diarrhoea continues to be one of the major causes of mortality among children under five.

But there is much work left to do. Many Sierra Leonean families still lack proper facilities and have no option but to defecate in the bush. The provision of latrines is an important first step in ending this practice and curbing the spread of disease.

‘Life is good now’

UNICEF is also working with local communities to improve their safe water supplies. The combination of CLTS with other health and education interventions is designed to ensure that the burdens felt by families such as Kadiatu’s remain a thing of the past. 

Kadiatu, for one, is pleased with the results.

“My children are much healthier now,” she says. “Because of the improved environment, I can now have friends over to sit in our back garden. Life is good now here in Saahun.”



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