World Toilet Day summit to resolve sanitation

LOUIS Mwape.

THERE is something remarkable taking place in Zambia this November 2018 and it appears our nation is eager and open to new approaches of improving sanitation services.
As the world turns its attention to today, November 19, to commemorate World Toilet Day under the theme “When nature calls”, Zambia is equally distinctively doing so by hosting its first-ever National Sanitation Summit, where the Government, through the republican President, will be launching the National Strategy against Open Defecation (OD).
This unprecedented summit being held from November 19-23 2018, in the nation’s capital, is a rare opportunity for Zambia to get an X-ray of where the country’s sanitation coverage stands, in relation to attaining the Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 6.
With a strong crowd full of technocrats, service providers, consumers, influencers, financiers, and cooperating partners expected to attend, it is a kind of an event that is anticipated to bring new resolve to specific sanitation onslaughts that have dogged especially most rural parts of the country.
Last year around this time, WaterAid Zambia revealed that 11 million Zambians did not have access to a safe lavatory, and that the situation raised public health concerns, leading to death of thousands of children every year from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea.
And during a training programme on Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) held recently in Kabwe, the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Education (WASHE) team and SNV revealed that currently only 46 out of 288 chiefdoms in Zambia have been declared and certified open defecation-free (ODF) zones.
The launch of the national strategy is therefore projected to strengthen the capacity of players directly involved in sanitation issues, and also to endorse the efforts of other cooperating partners that have been going round rural communities, working with chiefs, headmen and training people that could positively influence others to buy into the idea of having ODF zones.
With the Zambia Sanitation and Hygiene Program (ZSHP) reported to be yielding positive results as of 2017, where a considerable number of people are reported to have consistently been using improved sanitation facilities and adopting related hygiene practices such as hand-washing with soap, especially in ODF zones, the project is predicted to shape up part of the talks during that august gathering.
And when the curtain closes, the summit will probably be remembered for two most important things; firstly that the once not much talked-about topic of sanitation is no longer being overshadowed by water-related issues, and that it has taken centre-stage for the first time in the history of Zambia by having a whole lot of a summit dedicated to it.
Secondly, Zambia still has tremendous energy and a deep hunger to attain both its Vision 2030 and the SDG number 6, and there is a realisation that there is still an increasingly consequential gap between the haves and have-nots in terms of sanitation. The initiative leads to clear conclusions about efforts to bridge the national sanitation gap.
And now coming back to the World Toilet Day and why it seems to play out pretty good with Zambia’s aspirations, that theme “When nature calls” firstly suggests hope for a world imbued in diseases related to deplorable sanitation services. It places great emphasis on the significance of proper lavatories, and it is a broader push to ensure that everyone has a safe toilet by 2030. That is what Zambia is also aspiring for by launching a national strategy.
From the theme, partly two turning points loom; it spells out reality that the call of nature is a ritual that everyone undertakes, and without proper toilets, faecal matter ends up in dams, rivers, streams and other undesignated places. Its effects are grave, especially on our environment.
The current UN statistics indicate that 4.5 billion people live without a safe toilet, 892 million practise open defecation, 1.8 billion use water sources that could be contaminated with faecal matter and 62.5 percent of people around the world do not have access to safe sanitation.
Those statistics are not just mere fantasies to trigger emotional appeal but they are actually real. Nevertheless, what seems a point of light in seemingly dark times is that there seems to be a number of positive conclusions that indicate that there is a global united front against appalling sanitation conditions.
The first indication is that many innovations and strategies to bridge sanitation gaps are coming up while others are fast approaching. For instance, during the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing this year, the world’s wealthiest man, Bill Gates, and his foundation showcased over 20 novel toilets and sludge processing designs, that eliminate harmful pathogens and convert bodily waste into clean water and fertiliser.
According to Bloomberg, Bill Gates’ investment in sanitation technology is expected to help end almost 500,000 infant deaths and save US$233 billion annually in costs linked to diarrhoea, cholera and other diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene.
Bloomberg also reports that highly developed countries like China, Japan, USA and the Balkans are already ensuring that faecal sludge is either turned into fertiliser or used to produce clean energy.
Zambia might lag behind in terms of such highly advanced technologies but the current goings-on suggest that the nation will not blink on any opportunity to embrace approaches including technology innovations that will make sanitation service provision much more sustainable.
In April 2018, Zambia developed the Urban Onsite Sanitation and Faecal Sludge Management: Framework for Provision and Regulation with the help of the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council, Government and other cooperating partners. The framework stands as a demonstrated effort to keep sanitation issues on a front burner.
Considering developments and other sanitation improvement initiatives that have taken place, this year’s World Toilet Day resonates well with Zambia’s first-ever Sanitation Summit and much is expected from it.
The author is communications officer at Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited.

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