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© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Noorani

By Misbah M. Sheikh with inputs from Cyriaque Ngoboka

July 2010: Burera, Rwanda

Josephine Ayinkamiye is a 36 year old mother of six children. She lives in a very poor region in Rwanda, where until recently, fetching water was daily drudgery.

“We live a few hours walk from a lovely lake”, she recounts, “And every day, it was the chore of many women, children and even men to walk the long path to the lake to collect water to drink and to cook. As this water was not clean, my children were often sick with diarrhea or worms and we never even thought about hygiene”, she adds. “Actually”, adds Esperance Niyibizi, a local health worker, “I have seen adults and children trekking to Lake Burera every day witha packed lunch because that is how long it took some of them. We even had cases of children drowning while they were fetching water.”

But now thanks to a UNICEF initiative to construct community taps, sanitation facilities and promote hygiene education in this region, the families of Burera are experiencing a lifestyle change. UNICEF intends to provide close to half a million people with access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education.

This WASH project, as it is known, is generously financed by UNICEF and the Governments of Netherlands and Rwanda, who have concentrated their resources in four of the neediest districts –Burera, Nyabihu, Rubavu and Musanze. By constructing water facilities in local communities, health centers and primary schools, UNICEF hopes that disease indicators in these areas –
and soon all of Rwanda - will improve.

“Almost 80% of all diseases that affect Rwandans are linked to water-borne causes”, explain Guy Mbayo, Chief of Water and Sanitation for UNICEF, “and diarrhea is the second cause of all deaths amongst children under five. Consider this with the fact that 55% of the population has no access to proper sanitation and you will begin to understand how important it is for UNICEF
to support Rwanda in improving access to safe water and sanitation.

The WASH Project not only involves local communities in the maintenance of facilities and in promoting hygiene education, but also finds ways of linking water and sanitation to agricultural productivity and development through innovative ways.

In Rugarama, Burera, for example, households are being taught how to use human ecosan latrines for both their needs as well as to fertilize their small plots.

“I never realized that I could use this waste as a fertilizer”, laughs Claver Nzitabakuze, a local resident. “Now I see my productivity improving along with the health of the children. I definitely feel that they are fewer children sick in my village since we have access to safe drinking water”, he concludes.

The challenge now is to ensure that everyone understands this and the importance of good hygiene in promoting health outcomes.



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