How is UNICEF Senegal supporting the community to end open defecation
during COVID-19 times
‘’When someone comes to propose a new thing, it’s better to listen and accept it’’, declared the chief of Bloc Chantier village as he addressed his community gathered under a tree, referring to the success of a new set of sanitation technologies and approaches being practiced in his village.
Six months ago, Bloc Chantier in the commune of Diende near Sédhiou was one of the latest villages to reach the Open Defecation Free status thanks to a UNICEF led initiative called the Community-Led Sanitation Program (CLTS).
According to the World Bank, 24.1% of Senegal’s rural population were practicing open defecation in 2017. Open defecation is incredibly dangerous as contact with human waste can cause diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, diarrhea and worm infestation. For children it is especially hazardous with diarrhea being the second largest cause of under-five mortality globally. Diarrheal diseases are also associated with a higher risk of stunting and take a huge toll on society.
UNICEF supports governments and partners around the world to put a stop to open defecation through community-led initiatives that not only build well-maintained sanitation systems but encourage the local population to take charge of their own behavior.
‘’Building latrines from mud, cement or straw is an inexpensive way of stopping open defecation, and it’s an approach that gets the population thinking for itself’’, explains Beydi Diop, UNICEF’s WASH specialist based in Kolda. ‘’It’s important for the people to feel the necessity themselves. Each village will build with materials according to its own means’’, he stresses. ‘’The process is linked to dignity and appropriation. If we come and impose latrines on the population then maybe they wouldn’t use them.’’
In the village of Bloc Chantier in Senegal’s Casamance region, there are sixteen households and a population of 154, 50 of whom are children. The head of the regional sanitation services, Emmanuel Diatta says that before the CLTS started in January 2020, ‘’the children suffered from chronic diarrhea and couldn’t go to school. All the money went into medication. However, 90% of these diseases can be avoided by washing hands.’’
In effect, to provide a clean environment in which to live, the regular use of latrines, handwashing with soap, and repairing and maintaining sanitation facilities are the desired goal. In Bloc Chantier, it meant latrines with a cement floor and a covered hole were built in every household courtyard, and hand-washing ‘tippy-tapp’ devices were constructed next to them. These appliances, manufacturable by used peanut oil plastic bottles that most households already have, are designed to be activated by foot using a pedal. The soap is covered so that the animals don’t eat it, and the dirty water gets filtered through stones placed under it on the ground. As for drinking water wells, the community learnt to cover them with metal sheets to prevent dust and bacteria.
Every household in Bloc Chantier now has its own latrine. Sona Tamba, one of the two community relays chosen by the village in the CTLS program, says she has seen an improvement in her health and that of her children since the end of open defecation. ‘’I have less medical costs because the children have less diarrhea, and I started paying more overall attention to their hygiene.’’ She also added that the wells have benefited the women of her village as they now have quality water for cooking. ‘’It helps with our household chores’’, she notes, ‘’and we have more privacy and less risks of encountering snakes at night.’’
Joseph Sadio, a peanut grower who is also the second community relay for the village, describes how the villagers feel empowered and more connected. ‘’Whenever there is a new initiative, women and children are now involved in it. Everyone now comes when you call them. We have re-dynamized our community spirit,’’ he states.
Children and youth are particularly valorized within the framework of CLTS. During monthly meetings, a council of 46 under 18-year olds representing the surrounding villages communicate the needs of the youth to the rest of their villages and to UNICEF. ‘’Without UNICEF, the children wouldn’t feel part of this community project. We see our rights getting respected by the village,’’ thanked the president of the municipal council of children.
As seen in the Casamance, one of the biggest challenges to ending open defecation is not just providing clean and safe toilets, but changing the behavior of entire communities. With the support of local partners, UNICEF will continue to generate awareness, support community involvement and collective action to bring an end to open defecation.