Sanitation in Africa, Progress and Challenges.

Toilets are an important and essential part of our everyday lives, whether at home, at work or traveling. While access to toilets may seem like an obvious concept to many, especially for those who live in the global north, this is not so obvious in many communities in the global south, especially those in rural settings as well as those who live in urban slums and informal settlements.

There are people who go about their daily lives without access to toilets and who must compromise their dignity and privacy when nature calls. In some areas like the Kibera slums in Nairobi, most of the residents use ‘flying toilets’ – a plastic bag used to collect human feces since they do not have access to toilets. The filled and tied plastic bag is then discarded by throwing it far away or in a ditch or by the roadside.

Some communities in rural areas defecate in the open–they must go out in the bushes or hidden fields to relieve themselves. The practice is mostly rampant in poor communities that do not prioritize toilets.

At Feed the Children, we know that a lack of toilets leads to myriad serious sanitation problems. We understand exposure to fecal matter can lead to a long list of diseases and can cause infection; it also provides a breeding ground for parasites which affect many populations. We also understand that besides reducing infections, the sanitary importance of toilets offers an increased sense of dignity.

That is why we work to ensure children live in healthy environments. We do this by working closely with key partners to keep children free of disease through life-saving sanitation programs.

In Africa, we promote appropriate hygiene practices and health-seeking behavior among communities where we work. We do this in two ways; through the Care Group Model and Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).

The Care Group model is designed to teach household-level behaviors to prevent maternal and child malnutrition and death. Feed the Children has used this model successfully in the Kibera slums.

While the Care Group Model works well in urban slums, the CLTS approach has worked well in our rural populations. CLTS focusses on ending open defecation as a first significant step and entry point to changing behavior.

Both CLTS and Care Group Model concentrate on the whole community rather than on individual behavior. They focus on igniting a change in health and sanitation behavior through social awakening that is stimulated by individuals from within the community.

Through these approaches, communities are able to adopt a range of behaviors such as stopping open defecation; ensuring that everyone uses a hygienic toilet; washing hands with soap at different critical times; and creation of household handwashing facilities among other key essential hygiene actions.

In Kibera slums, Feed the Children uses the Care Group model to promote essential hygiene actions with an aim to create individual and community behavior change in health, nutrition and hygiene.

For the past year, Feed the Children has taught communities in Kibera about safe disposal of feces, so that it does not contaminate the environment, food, or water. The three slum villages where Feed the Children has been working have been able to locate sanitation facilities, they have taught their neighbors about the importance of safe feces disposal to protect their own health.

Achieving Open Defecation Free Environments

In Malawi, our hygiene and sanitation programs using CLTS have witnessed significant changes that have been recognized by the government. We have been using CLTS as a first step and entry point to changing behavior.

We start by enabling people to do their own sanitation profile through appraisal, observation and analysis of their practices of open defecation and the effects they have. This often kindles a desire to stop open defecation and clean up their neighborhood.

Since 2010, the government of Malawi with funding from the Global Sanitation Fund has been implementing hygiene and sanitation interventions across the country with the purpose of making Malawi an Open Defecation Free (ODF) zone.

In December 2015, Feed the Children in Malawi through its work under the Global Sanitation Fund ushered the country’s third Traditional Authority into an Open Defecation Free status. Since 2010, Traditional Authority Chapinduka was the third to be declared ODF in the country. The success was credited to the work that Feed the Children and the District Council were doing in the area.

Apart from this community, Feed the Children has worked with several schools in the northern region, Rumphi district to ensure that they have sufficient toilets to cater for the huge student population. One of the school that Feed the Children successfully trained on CLTS is Chivungululu Primary school that had their toilets constructed by community members.

For more than five years, our office in Malawi has reached out to more than 82,038 community members with CLTS messages, we have seen 190 villages living in ODF zones and most importantly, and we have seen behavior change where community members take collective responsibility to ensure that each homestead has their own toilet that is properly constructed, covered and has a handwashing facility.

In the coming months, Feed the Children, Africa region will continue using CLTS in rural communities to end open defecation. We have and will continue working in partnership with other non-governmental organizations, corporates and the government to empower children and their communities to achieve self-sufficiency.