Somaliland villages lead the way to stop open defecation

UNICEF is helping villages adopt ‘Community-Led Total Sanitation’ to become open defecation-free

By Kun Li
Sa’ado with two of her children
UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich
19 January 2017

In Somalia’s rural areas, open defecation is a common practice, leading to serious public health risks. 

HARGEISA, Somalila, 19 January 2017 – Sa’ado clearly remembers the time when she had to walk far into the open to relieve herself, waiting as long as she could to avoid the embarrassment. The experience was particularly unpleasant during the rainy season and the months when she was pregnant.

Sa’ado, lives with her husband and their seven children in the village of Geed Giqsi in Gabiley, Somaliland. They have a relatively comfortable life growing maize, sorghum and vegetables and tending two cows. But like the other 87 households in the village, they had never before had a toilet, nor had given any thought to having one.

When UNICEF’s local partner, an NGO called HEAL, came to their village in December 2015, persuading the residents to abandon open defecation, Sa’ado and her husband immediately agreed to build a toilet. By October of 2016, all of the families in the village had followed suit.

There were no incentives given from UNICEF and HEAL, only awareness campaigns and technical assistance. The villagers put up their own money and did the construction on their own.

This approach – Community-Led Total Sanitation – has been tested and proven in many other countries and regions.

“It cost us 80 dollars and was a lot of work,” says Sa’ado. “But we didn’t mind at all. I don’t want to walk into the dark in the middle of the night anymore just to find a hiding place to relieve myself.” 

Sa’ado and her children stand next to the newly built toilet at their home.
UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich
Sa’ado and her children stand next to the newly built toilet at their home. “It cost $80 dollars, and it was a lot of work,” she says. “But we didn’t mind at all.”

Sa’ado’s toilet is a pit latrine. Shielded by pieces of bright orange cloth sewn together and covered with dried, thorny branches, it stands at the edge of the family’s compound.

“The children in the village used to have diarrhoea a lot,” says Sa’ado. “But since we built the toilets, we have hardly seen any cases.”

“Many families welcomed the idea right away but many resisted it,” says Adan Abdullahi Mohamed, Programme Coordinator at HEAL. “The key to the success of the project is to make the people understand that open defecation is an unhygienic practice and causes serious illnesses, especially for children and pregnant women.”

“When the community realized that the river where they get water their drinking water was contaminated by their own faeces, they were convinced that a toilet is not a luxury but a necessity.”

In Somalia, 37 per cent of the population practice open defecation – one of the primary causes of diarrhoea.

In 2012, UNICEF began the project in 60 villages throughout Somalia. Today 12 villages in Somaliland, including Sa’ado’s, have achieved the status of ‘open defecation free’. Two villages in Puntland, and 25 in Somalia’s central and southern regions have received the same certification.

On 19 November, World Toilet Day, Sa’ado and her family joined their neighbours, government officials and UNICEF staff in a ceremony to mark the official declaration of open defecation free for the villages.

“We knew from the start that we would benefit from the toilet,” says Yusur Abdillahi of Hirsi Jicir, one of the villages declared open defecation free. “We now have a place that gives us privacy and convenience. When new people come and want to settle in our village, we ask them to dig first, or we will not welcome them,” she says, standing proudly next to her toilet.