Latrines at home provide dignity for the disabled, children and women

Through the Open Defecation Free campaign, UNICEF’s WASH programme supports clean water supply and encourages households to build latrines

Robin Giri
Aluet Ngong with her husband and children outside their home in Warlang village.
28 August 2021

Warlang, South Sudan – “Before, I had to crawl all the way into the bushes and I was always afraid of snakes,” says Aluet Ngong. She bites her lower lip and averts her eyes at the painful and humiliating memories of what it was like to go to the toilet in the open. “It was especially difficult during the rainy season,” she says.  Aleut Ngong is disabled and lost the use of her legs during childhood. She can move about with the help of a hand-operated tricycle. She lives in a one-room hutment in Warlang village in Aweil County, with her three children and her husband Luet Khamis.

“It was very difficult for me to go to the toilet and also for the children, but now our life has changed,” she smiles as she pedals slowly towards a straw-roofed structure a few metres away from their residence. Their own latrine!

UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme works with partners in South Sudan to provide equitable access to clean water for all and encourages communities to stop the practice of open defecation by constructing and using their own pit latrines with locally available materials. This is part of the open defecation free campaign, supported by UNICEF and partners with funding from the UK Government.

Aleek Agot is a proud mother from Rumger village who built a latrine for her family.
Aleek Agot is a proud mother from Rumger village who built a latrine for her family.

Dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene are the main contributors to acute watery diarrhoea which is one of the lead causes of child mortality in South Sudan. Lack of sanitation and clean water contributes to many communicable diseases and has a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of children and women. Further away in Rumger village, Aleek Agot proudly shows us her newly constructed pit latrine, which she built herself, with neighbours pitching in for labour and materials.

“Before I built the latrine, the children and I used to go into the bush to defecate. And the chickens would step on the faeces and bring it back into the courtyard,” says Agot, wrinkling her nose at the unpleasant memories. A single mother, Agot owns the land around her homestead and cultivates groundnuts and sesame. These cash crops provide sustenance for herself and her six children. Her yard is neatly arrayed with rows upon rows of the newly planted sesame.

“The nicest part about having our own latrine is that I don’t get scared at night. And when we play, there are no flies at all,” says nine-year-old Arek Ngeng, the older daughter of Agot. UNICEF’s WASH programme is implemented through partnerships with the Mentor Initiative, an international non-governmental organization that works closely with community actors, religious leaders and elders to promote hygiene education, handwashing, community cleanliness and other safe behaviours.

Any visitor to the two villages of Warlang and Rumger will be pleased to learn that all 49 homes in the former and all 85 homes in the latter have built and use their own latrines. Since April 2021, these two villages have proudly declared themselves Open Defecation Free communities. A large signboard on the side of the road confirms it.

Aleek Agot is a proud mother from Rumger village who built a latrine for her family
Aleek Agot is a proud mother from Rumger village who built a latrine for her family.

The two villages are an example to neighbouring communities. Mentor Initiative feels this community’s story can be used to inspire other villages to do the same. The construction and use of pit latrines ensure that all faecal matters is contained in the pits. This avoids faecal contamination of drinking water sources, and of surface areas where children play.

“Before we built the latrine, the children often got diarrhoea and were sick a lot. But since we built the latrine and began using it, none of them have fallen ill,” says Ogot, standing proudly next to her children.

In South Sudan, only 36 per cent of households have access to an improved water source with a round trip under 30 minutes and only 17 per cent of households have a latrine in their compound. More needs to be done to improve these statistics as access to clean water and sanitation means improved health, nutrition, and educational outcomes for its children.

UNICEF is grateful to the UK Government for this support. Additionally, UNICEF thanks donors such as the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank, USAID, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), for their support to the WASH programme in South Sudan.