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Changing habits and norms through Community-led Total Sanitation

UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
© UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
Tiwine Ngoma washes her hands outside her latrine in Mzimba district.

By Felix Malamula

Mzimba, 22 March, 2011: Mzimba, the biggest district in northern Malawi, remains one of the most naturally endowed districts in Malawi. Where other districts have depleted their natural tree cover through charcoal burning and other environmentally degrading activities, Mzimba has done well to preserve its natural forests. Villages remain surrounded by forests but the foliage has given cover to a not-so-healthy habit among local residents – the practice of defecating in the bush.

The forests were turned into toilets. According to the National Statistics Office, 16 per cent of Mzimba’s residents do not have access to basic sanitation. For years, open defecation was the norm until 2008 when UNICEF intervened through the district council. A Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme was launched following a survey to ascertain the number of people with access to basic sanitation. Through CLTS, 65,000 people now have access and most communities have abandoned their old habits.

Whereas, in the past toilets came with prescribed sanitation platforms, with CLTS, communities are encouraged to design their own latrines as long as they are safe and covered.  The new social norms created by CLTS also entail that every home has its own latrine and the use of the bush for defecation is frowned upon. Every household has a toilet some metres away from the main house.

An example is Kaishani village which has been declared free of open defecation for three years now.

“It took us sometime to accept that using the bush is not a good option. But now we are accustomed to using toilets,” says Tiwine Ngoma, a resident.

Ngoma says her husband, Donald Ngulube, with whom she has four children, constructed the toilet for her and his other wife as well as a kitchen and a bathroom.

“We live comfortably knowing that when nature calls we will not be worried with where to relieve ourselves. Previously, we used to walk to the bushes at night, exposing ourselves to safety risks,” says Teleza, Ngulube’s second wife with whom he has four children.

The habit of using the bush to answer the call of nature did not go without risks: one ran the risk of being seen by other villagers or, worse still, being bitten by snakes or being attacked by wild animals.

Additionally, using the bush meant one had no possibility of washing their hands as water was not available. The result was frequent episodes of diarrhoea.

“The occurrence of diarrhoeal diseases here was no news. As well as the lack of hand-washing, the outbreaks were caused by the faecal matter being washed away by rain into our water wells,” says Teleza.

CLTS was also introduced to pupils and teachers. Crispin Dambula, the district water development officer, says 30 schools have been provided with a package of water and sanitation facilities comprising improved pit-latrines, hand-washing facilities, urinals and water supply facilities.

Replicating the success of CLTS in other communities across Malawi is the challenge that the government, with the support of UNICEF and other partners, is taking head-on. A strategy to declare all of Malawi free of open defecation by 2015 has been developed and will be rolled out at the end of 2011.



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