Meet the first community to end open defecation in Niger.
''Living with latrines at home allows us to live with dignity and good health''
In Niger, open defecation is practiced by more than 71% of the population. The consequences of this practice are detrimental to health, nutrition, education or economic development. Furthermore, illnesses related to water and bad hygiene and sanitation habits are one of the main causes of children under-five mortality.
The Government of Niger, with UNICEF as a key partner and with the financial support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), developed in 2017 and 2018 a national road map for “Niger Without Open Air Defecation by 2030”. The foundations were established for the acceleration of the implementation of the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and the promotion of good hygiene practices.
We visit H.E. Sarkin Adar Yacouba Habibou Oumani, Chief of Illela Canton, in the Tahoua region. Thanks to his community raise-awareness and mobilization work, he has achieved a real milestone in Niger. The Bagaroua commune, which has 129 villages and more than 95.000 inhabitants, is the first one in the country to officially end with open defecation and to be declared as an Open-Defecation Free (ODF) community.
“A short while ago in Bagaroua, none of the houses had a latrine. The streets accumulated garbage from the neighbors. Children were frequently sick. We were used to seen them suffering from diseases or in the hospital” remembers the chief.
After the sensitization, we understood that open defecation was the origin of many diseases related to the lack of sanitation and hygiene. Then we said: we have to do something. It is for our health; it is for the survival of our children! This encouraged me to spread the message within the community.
The participation of administrative and traditional authorities such as H.E. Sarkin, have been decisive for the success of this road map. “As community leaders we have the responsibility to raise awareness among the population because they trust us. If we consider that behavior change is good for our people, our role is to promote it” he says.
H.E. Sarkin explains how the process has been until achieving social change. “We organized brigades to raise awareness among the population in every town and neighborhood. When people started to understand the importance of ending with open defecation, they took the lead and it was themselves the ones who encouraged others to change. They have even come to support us in other villages.”
The access rate of the households to latrines increased from 10.3% to 100% by building and using more than 6,000 new latrines. The populations learned good hygiene practices such as handwashing with soap or ash and water, and the cleanliness of their environment to prevent disease and the health of children.
Mariama, a mother from Bagaroua, tells her experience regarding social change. “When the chief of the village came to talk about the reasons why we had to build latrines, we welcomed the idea. Everybody started building latrines and explaining to others how to do it. Children also learned how to use them with proper hygiene habits and therefore they do not fall sick as before” she affirms.
A group of young girls in Bagaroua express us how this change has positively affected their lives. “I have lived in a house without latrine and one with latrine. We cannot even compare. Without the latrine I used to go to defecate in the fields in the outskirts of the village. Then people were around, I had to try to find a house with a latrine in the neighborhood. This took so much time and it was one of the main reasons why I was late at the school. When I had my period, it was even harder.” states Maladia, 15.
Since Bagaroua was declared as the First Open Defecation Free commune, several actions have been undertaken to maintain this status and to promote development initiatives. In 2019, each village developed and implemented a post-ODF monitoring plan. In addition, community self-assessment activities have been regularly carried out and have enabled to provide 16 schools with latrines (built by the people themselves) and to develop 129 community water safety plans. Furthermore, the commune plans to set up a municipal water and sanitation service.
“Nowadays’ children are healthier, they go to school, they play. The difference is considerable. We will continue raising awareness, we still have a lot of work to do and that’s why we encourage people and communities in Niger that do not still use latrines to use them” concludes Sarkin.