Making sanitation services accessible to the hard to reach communities
By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa
09 November 2012 - Binga: A start at the crack of dawn is required for Stewart Nyamuranga, UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer and his compatriots from Government and Civil Society to meet the targets set to monitor progress towards certifying Tyaba Village in Binga as Open Defecation free.
Located more than 150km from Binga Centre, and more than 1 000 from the capital city Harare, this remote village was found to have sanitation coverage of only 5% when this same team triggered the pilot Zimbabwe Community Approach to Total Sanitation (ZimCATS) project in 2011. This scenario was more worrying than the national indication that 69% of rural households do not have access to improved toilet facilities, while 39% of them practice open defecation.
The ZimCATS project is set to inspire local communities to adopt local innovations and create Open Defecation Free villages through behavioural change, demand creation for sanitation services and the elimination of open defecation. This community led project recognises the financial constraints faced by villagers in building a standard latrine and therefore encourages the building to be done in stages. Villagers buy just one bag of cement to line the excavated pit, cast a slab and then build a temporary superstructure as they collect resources for a permanent structure. This means the family can begin to use the latrine once the temporary enclosure is in place.
“What is important is to shun the practice of defecating in the bushes and giving people the options to build structures which are affordable to them and which will aid in giving the communities an appreciation of the value of good sanitation practices,” explains Stewart.
The travel to Tyaba village means more than three hours travel along the rocky gravel road, and an endurance of the intense heat that is characteristic of this low lying region of Zimbabwe. But these physical barriers must be surpassed if sanitation services and facilities are to reach even the most marginalized.
In monitoring the progress at Tyaba village, households are sampled from the 35 in the village to verify existence of a latrine, its proper use and also absence of fecal waste around the homestead. It is an arduous task to cover the sampled households as they are many kilometres apart and the rocky terrain is impassable by any vehicle. The impressive progress by the households is however, enough motivation for the team to walk through ten households.
The households are at different stages in the construction on their latrines, some have finished digging and cement lining the pits, and some have put up temporary enclosures mainly from grass, while some have gone all the way and put up permanent super structures with cement and bricks. So far more than 34 out of the 36 households in Tyaba have a latrine which is accessible to their family members. Although these humble temporary structures appear as a departure from the modern structures, they are enough to provide the needed privacy and protection from disease for the households.
“The mere existence of the structure is not enough to tell us that the latrine is being used. We check for the existence of a footpath, then go into the latrine to check on availability of toilet paper and also ask the household members on how the latrine is being used. We also check on the existence of a useable hand washing facility and presence of either soap or ash” says Stewart, further elaborating the importance of the meticulous verification of use.
Amos Mudhenda is one of the last villagers to kick start work on his family’s latrine. He recently relocated to the area and was immediately apprised of the community’s efforts towards elimination of open defecation. The evaluation team is satisfied that he has joined forces with his wife to excavate a pit, line it with stones and gather grass from the nearby bushes, which will be used to form the temporary superstructure. He believes that in two days’ time, his family of four would be saved of the distressing travels to the bushes for defecation.
The certification of a village as being ODF would mean a village is given recognition for the building of latrines at every household and making sanitation available to all. However, this will not mark the end of engaging the villagers on the gospel of having sanitary villages. Already, Stewart and his team have noted how the villagers blocking ventilation of the pits by covering the squat holes with metal sheeting as a way of safeguarding their free range animals from falling into the pits. Through the locally instituted Sanitation Action Group (SAG) communities will get further guidance on how to properly adopt this new behavior of using a latrine, including promotion of hand washing after toilet use, and for them to take full cognizance of the health and human dignity concerns with open defecation.