By Gregory Gondwe
The rainy season is here again in Malawi and as usual it is expected to be a mixed bag of fortunes and misfortunes. In Malawi and the world over, farming is largely dependent on annual rains.
Good as they are, the rains also come with catastrophes such as waterborne diseases.
I discovered that poor sanitary practices are to blame for recurrence of avoidable diseases such as Cholera and diarrhea each rainy season.
To emphasise the need for toilets, November 19 is World Toilet day, but when I travelled to Mzimba and Nkhatabay what I saw there is that in this day and age, some people still have no regard for conventional toilets.
They still use surrounding bushes.
There are no toilets in Lelemba Mkandawire Village in Mzimba district and Mrs. Jane Nyirenda who comes from the village across says this is not strange as there are none in her village too.
She acknowledges though, that during the rainy season, there are many cases of diarrhea.
In fact, until this visit, the people of her village failed to link the fact that they had no toilets and drank from unprotected water sources to the rise in diarrheal cases among them.
“We can not differentiate the difference between the goodness and badness of practices that are in force in our village. Now that we have learnt this, i think it is imperative that we construct toilets so that we can enjoy long and health life.
All along, the people of Lelemba Mkandawire Village blamed their status on poverty.
Here is where an initiative was hatched to enlighten the community on the importance of good sanitary behaviors as a measure to prevent communicable diseases such as diarrheal infections.
Mr. Dickens Mvula is Health Surveillance Assistant working in this area.
“They spend lots of money when caring for the patients or their relatives instead of using those money for the development of their villages,” he says.
The initiative called Water Sanitation and Hygiene Education – WASH-rolled out in 14 districts throughout Malawi in a joint sanitation coverage project between government and the United Nations Children Fund –UNICEF.
Among the beneficiary districts are Chitipa, Mzimba, Nkhatabay, Likoma, Lilongwe, Kasungu, Dowa, Mchinji, Salima, Blantyre, Mangochi and Mwanza.
Director of Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Mr. Mc Lawrence Green Mpasa explains why government ventured into this project.
“The government of Malawi upon being consulted identified the need to improve sanitation coverage as paramount and in response to that request, Unicelf put aside 6million Dollars ,” said Mr. Mpasa
Mr. Mpasa says in executing the project, officials employ participatory hygiene; sanitation transformation and sanitation marketing.
Through these approaches, communities are able to identify sanitation needs and determine solutions and also the technologies to employ as they move on up the sanitation ladder.
The enforcement of the initiative has not only been left to government and UNICEF. Other independent bodies such as the Malawi Public Health Association have joined the war.
Since 2007, the association has been carrying out similar work in Nkhatabay district with funding from a sister association in Canada.
“There was a lot of outbreaks of cholera, diahorhea, and malaria but since the Malawi Public Health Association went in that area, there have been no cases,” said Mr. Edward Kayange Northern Region District Coordinator, Malawi Public Health Association.
One unique approach to enhancing sanitation in rural communities in Malawi is dubbed Community Led Total Sanitation in which people answer questions to make sanitary decisions.
UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education Officer Mr. Symon Msukwa said the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Education – WASH initiative across the country is meant to provide sanitation services to communities so that preventable deaths of children are avoided.
“We go to the communities, we learn from them on various aspects and one of them being where exactly they go to dispose off their feaces.
“We do not use diplomatic terms like excreta or whatever, we call it ‘SHIT’ so once the community realize that they eat their own shit, there is shame in them ,” said Mr. Msukwa.
According to the National Statistics Office figures for 2008 Population and Housing census, 15.8 percent of people of Mzimba district did not have access to basic sanitation. This year, however, the WASH Project has provided basic sanitation to over 65, 000 people in schools and communities.
“It looks as time goes by, many people are becoming aware of the project and the response from the community is so massive. More people are demanding the services of the WASH project,” said Mr. Chrispin Dambula WASH Project Coordinator for Mzimba.
While Mzimba continues to struggle to ensure that people change their mindset and see the importance of owning sanitary facilities such as toilets, protected water sources and dumpsites, the story is different in Mchinji district where they employ a rather weird means.
Mchinji district Water and Environmental Coordinator Mr. Thomas Mchipha says initially, his office had to train extension workers on issues relating to sanitation before adopting one unique and unconventional approach to ensuring that everyone uses toilets to relieve themselves.
“We are much using the TAs and the group village headmen to enforce by-laws like to stone using catapults any body whom they see defecating openly within the villages,” said Mr. Mchipha
May be Mzimba does not have to buy catapults to get everybody in the toilets. They simply have to remember that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’
Children, who are most vulnerable to communicable diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, are the ones UNICEF first aims to protect in this whole exercise. Is it not sad that these habits have not spared children both in school and out of school?
Tom Mkandawire is eight years old. To him, a bush is a toilet because that is the culture where he lives.
“Yes! I use the bush,” said Tom Mkandawire.
Here, a society is breeding chaos for the future. Tom may never build his own toilet. zodiak online