VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
HAVE you ever stopped to think about how many times you use a toilet every day?This activity is often taken for granted that when the ‘need arises’, a toilet will be nearby.
However, this was not the case for Madimba residents in Lusaka’s Chunga township.
The residents lacked basic sanitation for a long time.
They did not have access to toilets and services such as garbage collection.
Without a toilet, people answered the call of nature in the bush.
For Olivia Tembo, 29, of Madimba, the dawn of a new day always presented a daunting challenge in the past.
For her, the simple task of defecating had to be planned.
Like other young people in the area, answering the call of nature was a huge challenge due to lack of a toilet.
Inadequate sanitation in the high-density townships does not only pollute the environment, but also lowers women’s dignity and makes them vulnerable to sexual harassment.
Fifteen years down the line, the story has changed for the people of Madimba. This is because the Network for Environmental Concerns and Solutions (NECOS) launched the dry toilet project in 2003.
The organisation was launched to improve sanitation conditions in the area because Madimba was affected by water-borne diseases.
Madimba, a 500 households community with a population of 7, 000, was once a sugar plantation and is generally waterlogged.
The dry toilet called Overhaul urine Diversio in short, is a new facility regarded as an alternative, appropriate and innovative sanitary tool.
NECOS founder and director Obed Kawanga said the toilet is also ideal for cholera-prone areas as an immediate and permanent intervention strategy.
The toilet is designed in such a way that it separates urine from feacal matter, also considered appropriate for local ecological, socio-cultural and economic conditions.
According to Mr Kawanga, once constructed, the structure can last for over 99 years and does not allow the interplay of the feacal matter and the ground water.
NECOS seeks a paradigm shift from the use of the traditional septic systems that include pit-latrines and soak ways that contribute to the contamination of groundwater.
“The dry toilet can be used to promote agriculture activities in schools and also boost household food security because feacal matter can be used as composite manure for crops. Urine acts as fertiliser,” Mr Kawanga said.
The organisation has been working with Global Dry Toilet Association of Finland since 2006 and, through the partnership, over 200 households are using dry toilets through a cost-sharing mechanism.
The organisation has implemented a comprehensive system of community development which entails training of artisans for building toilets and toilet parts, maintaining and emptying toilets.
Patricia Mubitelela, a mother of six, has been living in Madimba since 2009.
When she could not afford to buy the flush toilet, she resorted to the dry toilet from NECOS, a decision she has never regretted.
“I have been using the Oka toilet since 2009. It is good because it does not become waterlogged as the pit latrine in the rainy season,” Ms Mubitelela said.
She is happy that NECOS has lived to her expectation in the provision of its personnel to periodically empty the feacal matter and urine.
Once the faecal matter is collected from households, it is composite and used at the demonstration plot located in the area where flowers, grass and trees are grown.
The urine is used as fertiliser on flowers at household level for most dry toilet users who have been taught how to use it.
NECOS is however conducting studies on further use and safety of urine as fertiliser.
The aim of this project is to scale up the project from community to country level in order to increase the effectiveness and improve the results of the sanitation development efforts.
National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) director Kelvin Chitumbo said the use of dry toilets must be supported because it could contribute to improved sanitation in the country.
“The dry toilet is an option and way to go for the peri-urban areas, if it is accepted by the users,” Mr Chitumbo said.
Finnish Ambassador to Zambia Timo Olkkonen said he is happy that the Madimba community is using Oka toilets.
“I have also heard that these toilets are quite efficient in combating cholera,” he said.
Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection Permanent Secretary Ed Chomba said Government has prioritised sanitation.
Bishop Chomba said the ministry, working in collaboration with UNICEF, has embarked on a strategy called Open Defecation-Free Zambia.
“This is because we think the people should not be relieving themselves anyhow…in the bushes or wherever they can,” he said.
He, however, said sanitation projects being implemented by non-governmental organisations should be approved by Government and in conformity with national development goals.
Toilets ought to be a proper pit-latrine or water-borne, any other technology such as dry toilet or sanitation has to be interrogated by Government and commended.
The people of Madimba have embraced dry toilets until such a time that the area will be connected to the sewer network by the Lusaka City Council.
Environmentalists, however, support this initiative because it is an excellent example of sustainable design.
It also provide a safe and effective way to save resources and prevent pollution.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka