East Africa: Sanitation – ‘This Is the Way We Live’

In East Africa, not one country is on track to meet Millennium Development Goal Seven, which aims to reduce by half the number of people without access to clean drinking water and decent sanitation by 2015.

Despite governments in the region being signatories to several declarations on improving sanitation, many East African households still lack access to flush toilets or pit latrines. Open defecation is widespread, and ‘flying toilets’, where people defecate in plastic bags and throw them away at night are the rule rather than the exception in many informal settlements.

“This is the way we live. We do not have toilets, and no place to safely dispose of our waste,” said Nicholas Ambeyo [from Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, in Nairobi, Kenya]. “Because of this, and the lack of sufficient water, and the open sewers that run through our houses, we are at a risk of contracting diseases.”

[…] Toilet coverage in Kenya is still low, with latrines available to less than 50 percent of the population, according to James Gesami, the country’s assistant minister for Public Health and Sanitation.

[…] “Sanitation is a newly thought-out issue and we have not given adequate resources to that sector, but things are changing now,” Gesami told IPS. Government statistics show that budgetary allocation to sanitation in Kenya currently stands at 13 million dollars per year, too little for the country to reach the sanitation MDG. It is estimated that the country will require about 40 million dollars per year if is to achieve the MDG by the set deadline of 2015.

[…] Sudan is [also] far from achieving the sanitation MDG, especially in war-affected areas. Access to improved sanitation in Southern Sudan is at 6.4 percent, way below the 2015 target of 53 percent. [I]n the north [it] stands at 39.9 percent, edging closer to the 2015 target of 67 percent. Minimal budgetary allocations for sanitation have made it difficult for the government to provide the majority of poor citizens with basic toilet and latrine facilities. This has been blamed for the widespread outbreaks of diarrhoeal ailments, according to Elobeid Mohammed, coordinator of Sudan National Discourse, a water and sanitation non-governmental body.

“Diarrhoea, especially among children is common during autumn because of the rains and blocked sewers. These are diseases that can be prevented by ensuring access to toilets and hygiene. By doing this, the government can save money and pump it to other crucial sectors of development,” Mohammed told IPS.

Charles Hakizimana, chairman of the African Ministers’ Council on Water, says efforts to improve latrine coverage have been jeopardised by extreme poverty, illustrating the situation with an example from Burundi.

“There are cases where development agencies have provided material to communities to dig latrines, but [beneficiaries] sell them and continue defecating in the bush. Often times the people have said: “give us food first, there is no need to construct pit latrines when we do not have anything to put in them,”” Hakizimana, said.

In addition, there are social obstacles to providing sanitation to all. For instance, in several parts of East Africa, it is taboo for fathers-in-law to share a latrine with his daughters-in-law or mothers-in-law to share with sons-in-law. […] Constructing separate latrines for different family members is far too costly.

Source: Joyce Mulama, IPS, 19 Dec 2008

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