By MWANGALA LISELI
and SARAH TEMBO–
STORIES of indiscriminate disposal of human excreta or open defecation are rife in Zambia even in this time and age when technology has evolved.
It is surprising to see people in this generation and century disposing of human excreta indiscriminately or open defecation not only in rural areas but also in urban areas.
But the question is; is it because of too much bare land in most African countries or inadequate sanitation facilities, especially in the rural areas.
Nowadays, used diapers with baby excreta are disposed off carelessly anywhere in the townships and thrown from fast moving vehicles.
However, improved sanitation is important not only to human health but also for economic and social development.
Yet sanitation in Zambia faces challenges linked to human behaviour and key on the list are lack of infrastructure, indiscriminate disposal of water waste, lack of control for collection and treatment of waste and open defecation.
The effects of open defecation are that it pollutes the ground water, agricultural produce and helps spread diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and bilharzia.
Gender has proven to be a challenge in hygiene and sanitation as the campaign has proven that men are a bit reluctant when it comes to sanitation issues.
Women and girls have proven to be the most affected by hygiene and sanitation issues simply because of their sex.
Some schools in some rural areas do not have separate toilets for girls and boys and this has affected their privacy.
Some girls in the villages are forced not to attend school during certain times of the month due to poor hygiene.
Chief Macha of Southern Province says sanitation practices such as open defecation is amongst factors that pose serious challenge to development.
Chief Macha who is national chairperson for Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), open defecation impacted negatively on development as it contributed to spread diseases thus increase the disease burden on both households and the government in terms of cost.
It is important for communities to acknowledge that open defection was a major driver of diarrhoea related illnesses, adding that there was need for all communities to aspire to be open defecation free.
To this effect, Chief Macha has pledged to dedicate his efforts towards helping to propel other Chiefdoms to attain open defecation free status.
Chief Chitina, who is Mkushi District CLTS chairperson, said that there is need to apply far reaching strategies that would encompass both urban and remote parts of the District.
In this regard, Chief Chitina said Village headmen occupy an important role in planning and execution of activities that aimed at curbing Open Defecation by encouraging every household in the communities to have one toilet.
He said that there is need for good coordination between the traditional authorities in the remote communities, as well as Technocrats such as Government’s Departments of Chief’s Affairs, Health and the District Council.
Moreover, global statistics indicates that 2.5 million people worldwide do not have access to improved sanitation as 1.2 million of the population still practice open defecation.
According to the WASH programme by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and other organisations, globally, 6.5 million children die of diarrhoea per year and in Africa only, more than 1.5 million children die every year from the water borne disease.
This is approximately to 4,100 people per year worldwide and 80 per day in developing countries.
WASH is a health campaign which focuses on hygiene and sanitation by sensitising people, especially in rural areas on the dangers of open defecation.
UNICEF communications for development specialist Rufus Eshuchi said the campaign is targeting three different leaders which are traditional leaders, technocrats, political and civil leaders to assist in the campaign for total sanitation in the country.
Mr Eshuchi said traditional leaders have played a vital role in reducing open defecation in their chiefdoms by building toilets and encouraging their chiefdoms to adopt the idea.
“We have engaged pillars in the WASH campaign and it is working tremendously especially in rural areas where chiefs are encouraging their people to build toilets by setting an example as well.”
“There are actually four chiefdoms that are active members of the WASH campaign and it has worked for them as they are receiving fewer diarrhoea cases,” he said.
The CLTS campaign however, this year has focused its concern on hand washing as it is a key player in the hygiene and sanitation.
CLTS is the involvement of communities in sanitation issues and this has assisted especially in communities such as villages and townships.
In Mumbwa, a group of women have come together and help in keeping their communities clean by discussing hygiene and sanitation issues.
They also go around the community and sensitise people on hygiene and as well as assist women who are having problems in that area by providing the necessary items for one to build a toilet if not.
However, from the findings by the WASH campaign, it has been evident, women are much easier mobilised in hygiene and sanitation issues.
This is because women have proven to take voluntary work with interest and passion as compared to men who usually want something in return.
WASH project coordinator Rina Makumba said in some villages especially, men usually asked for money before they could even offer any information on the subject.
However, women have been encouraged to talk to their husbands so that they understand more on sanitation and hygiene.
It is also evident that kingdoms led by female chiefs have attained an open defecation free faster than other kingdoms.
In order to intensify awareness on improved sanitation, Ms Makumba says the media is a tool the organisation would use to that effect.
The media is also one way that technocrats and leaders get through to the public and this is one other better way to sensitise people on hygiene.
“One example highlighted by this campaign is where they use the radio to talk about the villages and kingdoms that have managed to build toilets and attain sanitation and this has forced those villages lagging behind to pull up their socks by building more toilets and trying to achieve total sanitation by getting rid of open defecation,” says Ms Makumba.
It, however, anticipated that with such efforts, Zambia would eventually become an open defecation free status even with the abundant bare which the population has taken advantage of to help themselves.