A year ago, recalls Ashorou Miko, 31, “We were living surrounded by human excreta. The only way to relieve ourselves was by defecating in the bushes. The stench was unbearable.” Today, he and other residents of Kollia, a remote village in the Niger, are proud to walk us through their spotless dust streets and clean mud-brick courtyards. Every house has a covered latrine constructed by household members, themselves, using local materials.
Open defecation brings risk
In 2010, 91 per cent of the population in the rural Niger defecated in the open. The risks were many. Communities were exposed to illness. Women were forced to walk, often for hours, and in the dark, in search of privacy. Adolescent girls missed school during menses. Children were among the most vulnerable. The two main causes of mortality among children under 5 – acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease – are closely linked to poor water, hygiene and sanitation. Repeated diarrhoea is a main cause of malnutrition.
Efforts to improve sanitation in the Niger had been focused on providing subsidies to individuals for cement and metals for the construction of latrines. This approach was expensive and often failed to ensure actual use. “The barriers to latrine usage are many,” explains UNICEF Communication Officer Adamou Matti Dan Mallam. “Using toilets was never part of our practice. And people did not understand its importance. They preferred the simplicity and easiness of defecating in the field.”
Community-led programme changes tradition
A revolutionary community-led total sanitation (CLTS) programme, promoted by the Government of the Niger and UNICEF, is changing the practice by mobilizing communities to take action to eliminate open defecation. CLTS shifts the focus from construction of toilets and trying to change the behaviour of individuals to investing in community mobilization to trigger collective action and communal commitment to becoming open defecation free.
The goal is to replace old practices with new norms – regular use of latrines, washing hands with soap, repairing and sustaining sanitation facilities. In the process, CLTS strengthens community solidarity and support systems as those unable to build latrines for themselves are helped by others. “Communities lead the change process,” explains Mr. Dan Mallam. “Men, women, children, elderly and youth gather to analyse their own sanitation and waste behaviour, map out their village in the sand, identify open-defecation spots and analyse pathways from faeces to mouth.” The exercise makes residents realize the effects of open defecation on their health and ignites immediate action to stop the practice.
“As long as anyone in the community continues to practice open-defecation, all of us are exposed to diseases,” says Tahirou Hamidou, 60. The gains to women and children, in particular, are paramount. “Our children were suffering from eye infection and diarrhoea. And we used to spend a lot of money on medical treatment, but, thanks to CLTS, not anymore,” says Laria Issa, 40. Entry point for social change.
The effects of CLTS go beyond improved sanitation and hygiene. It empowers communities to mobilize themselves for collective action around priorities beyond sanitation. CLTS platforms facilitate community dialogue to share common interests, recognize common problems and find common solutions enabling communities reach a consensus and develop a vision for the well-being of the community. In Kollia, implementing CLTS led community members to set up a health fund from which members could borrow money to pay healthcare fees.
In the village of Gadiga, CLTS champions initiated a cereal bank where community members could buy millet for a subsidized price during difficult times or when harvests failed. Head of Madarounfa Department in Maradi Abass Harou says, “Once the community is convinced and have experienced the impacts of CLTS in bringing wellness to the society, it opens the door to engage them in other issues such as education, health and nutrition.” UNICEF, in partnership with the Government of the Niger, is implementing CLTS in 215 villages in four regions. The programme is now part of the national strategy to improve sanitation and hygiene in rural areas and will be scaled up in the coming years.
Mozambique: Floods - Evacuation Continues in Limpopo Valley
The Mozambican government is mobilizing two light aircraft to assist in rescue operations for people surrounded by flood waters in the Limpopo basin, particularly in the districts of Chokwe and Guija, which face each other across the Limpopo river. Earlier on, the Deputy Minister of State Administration, Jose Tsambe, flew over the flooded areas, and could see many people clinging onto trees or stranded on rooftops. Tsambe instructed the troops of UNAPROC (National Civil Protecton Unit) to leave Chokwe town and move to Chilembene, a critically affected area of Chokwe district. By midday on January 24, UNAPROC had rescued 49 people in Chilembene, and the operations continued into the afternoon. Three accommodation centres have been set up for flood victims, at Chihaquelane and Hokwe, in Chokwe district, and at Javanhane, in Guija. But the numbers fleeting from the flood zones are so large that the centres cannot accommodate them all, and do not have enough food.
According to Ana Cristina, an official of the Mozambican relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), briefing the Minister of State Administration, Carmelita Namashulua, on Thursday, there were now 500 families at Chihaquelane, and there were not enough tents or food for them.
People without tents are sheltering under trees. To deal with this crisis, a further five tonnes of foodstuffs arrived at Chihaquelane on Thursday. Although the flood waters at Chokwe are now receding, families are likely to stay in the accommodation centres for a considerable time, until they have rebuilt their homes.
The flood completely swept away huts and other houses made of flimsy materials. Even brick houses will need time to dry out and become habitable again. But attentions are now switching to the city of Xai- Xai, capital of Gaza province, near the mouth of the Limpopo. The flood wave is moving inexorably down the Limpopo and is forecast to hit Xai-Xai on Saturday.
Low-lying parts of the city, near the banks of the river will inevitably be flooded. The waters will also spread out across the farmland surrounding the city. It is calculated that 23 per cent of Xai-Xai district will be submerged. By January 24 afternoon more than a thousand families had been evacuated from the villages most at risk in Xai- Xai district. The INGC has warned that if people do not accept the recommendations to leave their homes, they will be forcibly evacuated.
According to Rute Nhamucho, head of the water resource department in the National Water Board (DNA), in some places the river has risen even higher than the records set during the massive Limpopo floods of 2000. However, this time the effects are not as damaging as in 2000, she explained, because “this year we have one high flood peak that lasts a short time, whereas in 2000 we had several flood peaks, all of them high and lasting a long time”