by Raphael Mweninguwe
Villages in Malawi are now being declared open defecation free (ODF), thanks to local and international non-governmental organizations such as Participatory Development Initiative (PDI), WaterAid and Concern Universal (CU).
A decade or so ago issues of ODF were rarely discussed and because of our cultural and traditional beliefs people hardly talked about defecation freely. The chiefs themselves could not talk about ODF because it was considered a taboo.
But total the chiefs are in the forefront telling their subjects not to defecate in the open and in Traditional Authority Sitola in Machinga by-laws have been put in place that prevents people from defecating in the bush and once found the by-laws breaker pays a find to the village headman.
Traditional Authority Mwase in Kasungu set an example of other chiefs when his villages were declared ODF about two years ago and just a few days ago, Peter Kumpalume, Minister of Health declared TA Kayembe and Chikhaza in Dowa ODF at a function which CU organized. The function took place in TA Kayembe.
CU in partnership with Dowa and Kasungu District Councils is implementing the Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Project targeting 11 TA’s with funding from UKAID through UNICEF to the tune of MK 1.6 billion. The project started in July 2015 after completing a 2-year Phase 1 Project funded to the tune of MK 1.3 billion. The Phase 2 Project, according to CU, builds upon the gains of Phase 1 while giving greater emphasis to borehole water point’s sustainability, scaling up Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and hygiene promotion among target rural communities.
CU Country director Heather Campbell said the project targets 420,000 people from the 11 TAs in Dowa and Kasungu districts. She also said CU has facilitated the construction of 714 boreholes reaching out to 178,500 people.
“In Schools Concern Universal has facilitated the construction of 42 boreholes. Since we embarked on this project in 2013 there has been remarkable improvement in sanitation and hygiene provision,” she said.
TA Kayembe said she was happy with the work that CU is doing in his area and she said people no longer practice open defecation because every household is now having a toilet.
Kusamba Dzonzi, a Member of Parliament for Dowa West, said while ODF is highly appreciated there was need for people to have access to water.
“Some people in the Constituency have no access to water and it is my wish that [Central Region] Water Board should provide people with water so that WASH project can be a complete success. Without water people cannot wash their hands after visiting the toilets,” he said.
Health Minister Kumpalume urged Malawians to take WASH seriously arguing that practicing good sanitation and hygiene would help save about MK8 billion which is spent on treating preventable diseases such as cholera and diarrhea.
He said this money could be used for other things such as construction of new health centres and buying drugs.
Access to water is key to achieving ODF sustainability and not only in the rural areas but in the cities and towns as well. In Machinga TA Sitola lamented one day that his areas requires water for his subjects to have access to improved sanitation and hygiene.
Government should ensure that communities should have access to water and in situations where there is no water or water is scarce people will not priotise handwashing facilities because for them it will be a waste of water.
Assuming someone travels over five kilometres in search of water and when she gets back home getting some water for handwashing will be a hard decision to make.
So if the Minister really needs to save the K8 billion that is ‘wasted’ on saving lives because people have are suffering from preventable diseases such as cholera and diarrhea then it should start by providing people with the basic needs such as water. Politicians should not just make promises on the campaign but it should fulfill the wash promises.
Government should also increase funding to the sector which seems neglected. But Kumpalume defends government that it has no enough money to support the sector 100%. In 2013/14 financial year the WASH sector received 49.6% of the approved provision, according to the Irrigation, Water and sanitation Sector Performance Report.