Improving sanitation in Pakistan’s rural villages

Empowering communities by giving them access to sanitation and hygiene

Moeed Hussain
Zahra walks out after using the newly constructed latrine
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

01 May 2019

Jhang District, Pakistan – 1 May 2019: “Now I can go to the bathroom any time of the day!” says 14-year-old Zahra Asif with a broad smile as she sits on a Charpoy, a traditional hand-woven South Asian bed, at her home.

“Gone are the days when I used to panic if I had to go to the bathroom, especially during the day,” the young adolescent adds with a sense of relief. She proudly points to the door of the newly constructed latrine next to her home.

Not being able to go to the toilets when needed might seem strange to many people across the world. For Zahra and the other residents of Behari colony, one of three neighbourhoods in the village of Rakh Kotla, it was a daily challenge until ten months ago.

“Now I can go to the bathroom any time of the day! Gone are the days when I used to panic if I had to go to the bathroom, especially during the day,”

Zahra Asif, 14 year old resident of Rakh Kotla Village

Located in the Jhang District of the Punjab province, Behari colony was once plagued by extremely poor sanitation and hygiene conditions. Out of the 41 families living in Zahra’s neighbourhood, only 13 used latrines. Open defecation was prevalent and as a result, diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery were commonplace.

While there has been a considerable improvement in the statistics over the last decade, 13 per cent of Pakistan’s population -- 22 million people -- still practice open defecation; only 60% have access to basic hygiene facilities.

As she pets a goat inside her mud brick house, Zahra tells of the difficulties she used to encounter when she had to practice open defecation.

“Whenever I needed to relieve myself, my mother had to come with me due to safety concerns. During the day we had to travel further from the houses to find an isolated spot,” she says.

Zahra struggles to contain her laughter as she mentions how her mother used to scold her if she bothered her too often.

Zahra plays with her goat
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi
14-year-old Zahra, resident of Rakh Kotla village smiles as she plays with her pet goat.

Empowering communities to improve their own lives

The bleak sanitation and hygiene conditions in the village have dramatically improved thanks to funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and on-ground support from UNICEF and partner Qatar Charity.

Under the Accelerated Sanitation and Water for All (ASWA) Programme II, UNICEF and partners have provided marginalized communities in Jhang with access to basic sanitation services, clean water and improved water and sanitation infrastructure.

In Behari Colony, villagers were offered practical, low-cost solutions to build latrines for their homes. Each family received basic materials such as plastic squatting pans, and used additional materials such as bricks and cement to build pit latrines themselves.

In less than one year, every family had constructed a latrine. The neighbourhood is now on the verge of being officially declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). Once the project has been completed in the other two neighbourhoods, all of Rakh Kotla village will be declared ODF.

The Lone Hero

For years, there was a lone voice advocating the use of latrines in the village – that of Abdur Razzaq. A resident of Behari Colony for six years, 34-year-old Razzaq works as a brick layer. His longstanding opposition to open defecation made him a logical choice to head the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Committee established in the village as part of the project.

A well-liked figure in his community, Razzaq feels proud that open defecation will soon be eliminated.

Abdur Razzaq with his son at home
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi
Abdur Razzaq, President of the Village WASH Committee, with his son Mohsin at his home in Behari Colony, Rakh Kotla village.

“I was the first person in this village to construct a latrine in my house, back in 2014,” says Razzaq as he sits with his son.

“I have always discouraged my neighbours from practicing open defecation. Apart from the obvious spread of diseases, it also makes women and young girls vulnerable to assault. Moreover, who likes to have that terrible stench around the neighbourhood?”

A brick layer, Razzaq was able to efficiently advise and assist the villagers in the construction of all the latrines, which was supervised by the WASH committee which he heads.

“Apart from the obvious spread of diseases, open defecation also makes women and young girls vulnerable to assault. Moreover, who likes to have that terrible stench around the neighbourhood?”

Abdur Razzaq, President of Rakh Kotla Village WASH Committee

Razzaq and the members of the WASH committee also organize regular health and hygiene sessions for women and children. With support from UNICEF and partners, the participants are educated about proper hand washing techniques, safe drinking water handling, basic sanitation and hygiene rules and menstrual hygiene management. The sessions should help the villagers maintain adequate hygiene practices, including using latrines on the long term.

UNICEF supports the Government in its efforts to eliminate open defecation through the Pakistan Approach to Total Sanitation (PATS). UNICEF will replicate the programme, which empowers communities to play an active role in improving their own living conditions, in many more communities.

A social mobilizer conducts a health and hygiene session
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi
A social mobilizer from UNICEF’s implementing partner conducts a health and hygiene session in Behari Colony, Rakh Kotla village.