Sierra Leone: Communities take charge, one latrine at a time

Kadiatou Samura proudly showed her pristine new toilet to her Member of Parliament, the leader of her chiefdom and the head of the UN Children’s Fund’s [UNICEF] district office as they toured her village, Kamayintin, in Sierra Leone’s Bombali district. The village was celebrating its status as the chiefdom’s fifth to be declared “free of open defecation”.

The toilet was elegant and simple: an earth floor, walls built from local wood, topped by a conical straw roof. Samura built it herself with the help of 12 other families in the village, who together built 17 toilets in a month. “This toilet has saved us from sickness. Fewer of our children are falling ill from diarrhoea now,” Samura told IRIN.

[…] Just a third of rural Sierra Leoneans have access to clean water and to sanitation facilities, according to UNICEF’s Victor Kinyanjui, water, sanitation, hygiene manager. Diarrhoea is the third leading cause of death in children under five in Sierra Leone.

[…] Reversing old aid models whereby outsiders pay for and construct expensive latrines that villagers cannot afford to maintain, in this approach villagers choose their own latrine models, find the materials locally, raise money if necessary and then build them, said Kinyanjui. Sanitation experts guide villagers on the types of toilet to suit their topography and budget. Samura’s latrine – assuming the free labour of her fellow villagers – cost her nothing, whereas a standard modern latrine can cost up to US$100, according to Kinyanjui – equivalent to a third of annual earnings for most Sierra Leoneans.

[…] UNICEF’s aims to roll it out across 10 districts of the country by 2010, with ActionAid, Plan International, Oxfam, and GOAL, implementing the project.

[…] Mohamed Sankoh, programme manager for ActionAid in Bombali district, told IRIN: “Before, communities realised they were – excuse my language – eating each other’s [faeces] and it made them feel ashamed. Now we have seen a great change in people here, in the way they think”

Not all are convinced by the new approach. District councillor Eric Ceesay prefers the “safe, clean, concrete toilets” that international agencies – including UNICEF – used to build. Some 560 of these have been built over the years, and the district needs a further 1,500, Ceesay said. The community-led facilities are “inconveniently located, they have poor ventilation, and…they attract snakes.”

[…] To reinforce [sustainability of safe hygiene practices], local chiefs should resurrect now moribund local by-laws giving health inspectors the right to assess households’ hygiene levels and to exact fines of up to 16 US cents when they are sub-standard, Serra Limba Chief Kandeh Luseine said.

See also:  CLTS – Sierra Leone

Source: IRIN, 24 Feb 2009

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