More than just a dignified place to ‘go’
We understand that access to water and hygienic sanitation facilities is crucial when it comes to building disaster-resilient communities. Through community-based interventions such as latrine construction, well installation and the formation of community water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) committees, the Primeiras e Segundas program with support from the European Commission’s Department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, CARE Austria, and Austrian Development Cooperation is assisting vulnerable communities in Angoche by improving their disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies.
Nearly 4,500 people went without running water and functioning toilets for a week this month aboard a Carnival cruise ship, which was stranded off the coast of Mexico due to damages caused by an engine fire. Passenger accounts of the ‘indignity’ resulting from such unsanitary conditions made headlines as sympathizers all over the world shuddered at the thought of having to live through such a ‘nightmare.’
Yet this is a daily reality for many of the people served by the Primeiras and Segundas program. According to population survey data, nearly half (46%) of the population of Nampula, Mozambique’s most populated province, still practice open defecation for lack of decent and hygienic sanitary facilities (i.e. toilets or latrines). With a provincial population of nearly 4 million we are talking nearly 2 million people.
In the coastal and island communities in Angoche district, this translates into ‘going number two’ in open areas on the beach, under trees or in other secluded areas among the mangroves. This was the case for the Assane family, residents of Sicubir, a community located in the mangrove-clad island in the upper estuary of Angoche.
“I would go to Langua,” the area deemed as the community’s open public toilet, “and would feel bad going in the open,” stated Abdala Assane. “Once, I saw my youngest son there and was so ashamed.”
Yet for the Assane family, it was not just a question of shame and indignity when it came to not having a place to ‘go.’ The lack of hygienic sanitation facilities has serious environmental and population health impacts. Such impacts are exacerbated for communities in disaster-prone areas like Sicubir, where the threat of damage from cyclones and heavy rains flooding looms, especially during the rainy season.
Contamination from open defecation can be washed into open, shallow pit wells, traditionally used in communities. This may lead to high levels of water scarcity and the spread of diseases, such as cholera and other diarrheal illnesses. With already low standards of living and chronic malnutrition, this can easily become a death sentence for the most vulnerable, namely women and children.
“I was worried that my sons would get sick if they kept going there.”
Unfortunately, the Assane’s did not have the skills or materials necessary to build a latrine at their residence. Like most families in their community, they make their living through fishing and subsistence farming. In this densely populated area gripped by endemic poverty and a continually decreasing resource base, just putting food on the table is a dire task.
When program water and sanitation technicians entered the community and began to provide support and information about building pit latrines, Mr. Assane responded with enthusiasm. Using local resources at a minimal cost to his family, he constructed a latrine with project support.
His household became the first of 75 in his community to have one. With the knowledge and skills gained from program support, Mr. Assane is now leading by example, assisting neighbors with constructing their own latrines and speaking about the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation practices.
As health and environmental improvements do not come from simply the presence of sanitation facilities like latrines but from their proper use, the Primeiras and Segundas program continues to work with target communities like Sicubir in promoting proper hygiene practices and latrine maintenance, as well as providing clean water sources through well rehabilitation and construction.
So the next time you think about ‘doing your business,’ know that here at Primeiras and Segundas, we are dedicated to ensuring that people are able to do theirs under dignified and sanitary conditions.
Conserving the environment. Improving lives.
The work highlighted in this post is part of the Food Insecurity Reduction & Enhancement of Disaster Resilience of Communities Project (FREDRIC) of the Primeiras and Segundas program funded by