Success tales on rural sanitation

LOUIS Mwape.

IN 2009, Macha, an expansive area in Southern Province with 115 villages, became the first chiefdom in Zambia to be declared and verified as an Open Defecation Free (ODF) Zone. To many players passionate about sanitation, that unprecedented feat was seen as an “antidote” to the agony of deplorable sanitation conditions, especially in rural areas.
It may have been so hard for ordinary folk to imagine that there is so much that could be done to curtail high prevalent rates of open defecation back then, but that lone milestone came as compelling tidings, that the situation did not always have to be that way either for Macha chiefdom or Zambia as a whole.
When an area is declared ODF, it means that each household has a toilet that meets all required hygiene parameters, including a hand-washing facility. It also means that communities in that particular area have unanimously resolved to use those facilities rather than going to the bush to answer the call of nature.
What happened to Macha chiefdom set a tone for a campaign that has seen 46 chiefdoms across the country become ODF, as of 2018. As I pen down this note, it is only apt to remark the fact that the national rural sanitation profile could improve even more in the near future.
Through interventions from co-operating partners such as UNICEF, Plan International, SNV and the government, there has been some strings of remarkable progress in terms of Water and Sanitation Hygiene Education (WASHE), among other approaches.
For instance, according to Zambia Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (ZSHP) 2017 Impact Evaluation Report, its target of reaching three million people in rural areas with access to improved toilets has already been met.
Now, that in itself is not only a fascinating but a successful narrative; and obviously having 46 sprawling territories being declared and certified ODF with the recent ones being Nyawa village in Kazungula, Kabulwebulwe village in Mumbwa, and Mailo village in Serenje districts, is no mean achievement, but something to be happy about. It means that we are not where we were in 2005, and that interesting account brings me to a question of how did Zambia get there and how did those 46 villages attain that status?
The answer is that there are many deliberate programmes behind these developments. In 2007, for instance, a programme going by the name of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) was introduced in Southern Province after Kamal Kar, an Indian-based public health specialist, and other stakeholders conducted a series of workshops on communal approaches to improving sanitation.
CLTS approach originally started from India and it stands out to be one of the most acclaimed sanitation improvement initiatives world over. Today, over 50 countries have adopted that model in trying to push for better sanitation in areas faced with challenges of open defecation.
And speaking in Kabwe during a recent training for community champions and environmental health technologists, who will be sent out to trigger communities on issues to do with ending open defecation, chief principal coach and public health specialist Moses Mutyoka, who is also spearheading training programmes across Zambia, said CLTS is one of the best sanitation approaches that ever happened to Zambia.
He said this in reference to 46 chiefdoms that have so far been declared ODF and how that has impacted on the sanitation profile. Mr Mutyoka explained that Zambia’s sanitation coverage in terms of ODF zones has just from 13 percent in 2005 to the current 31 percent.
CLTS is an approach that aims to trigger the mindset of people in communities to be aware of the fact that they, too, can upscale their own sanitation, even without the aid of any donors or financiers.
It gives answers to questions such as where does faecal matter go if not properly disposed of and what happens thereafter? Through working with highly dedicated volunteers within selected communities, the initiative seeks to encourage communities to construct their own ventilated improved toilets using readily available materials in their own localities.
Among the heart-warming benefits of CLTS programmes is that it is a well-designed approach that is able to trigger one’s conscience and give them an opportunity to act to improve sanitation.
There are at least three levels upon which CLTS seems to be working well. Firstly, it is a community initiative and communities feel a sense of ownership. Secondly, it is a cost-effective way to bridge the sanitation gap in rural areas.
This programme has now been rolled out to all districts in Zambia, and through it, sanitation has improved and it is being taken as a front burner priority, placed on equal footing with water. Through recent trainings on CLTS, Chitakata village in Central Province, under Chief Chipepo, has also been earmarked for CLTS. Kabwe Municipal Council and Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited (LgWSC) have been tasked to spearhead a steering committee that will ensure that the programme ends on a successful note. There is a high likelihood that many villages, even in Central Province, could be declared ODF after the programme is implemented.
Recently, the Government, through the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection, launched the first-ever National Strategy against Open Defecation. It is a document that is aimed at providing a road map towards a multi-sectoral approach in terms of tackling sanitation challenges in Zambia.
The Government also extended the mandate of water commercial utilities to rural areas. Such a strategy blends well with other interventions, especially that success stories stemming from the CLTS programmes bring hope and could be a badly needed feel-good moment for the Government that has just launched a tool to further bridge sanitation gaps at all levels.
With that, I do honestly think that a heart-warming victory against open defecation and deplorable sanitation conditions in the near future is likely.
The author is Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company communications officer.

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