If you think your job is bad, just read this interview that landed on my desk today from our team in Kenya. It is of a man who empties toilets for a living.
More than 2.5 billion people live without sanitation. Open sewers overflowing with rubbish and human waste run through the centre of urban slums.
Practical Action is working in a slum in Nakuru. There are toilets there – just not as we know them. They are basically just pits which are used by 240 people every day. They fill up quickly!
Imagine having a toilet that you can’t flush and you just keep going and going?! That’s the smell. It’s hard to bear.
There’s only one way these toilets can get emptied
People like Anthony have to empty the toilets – many of them with their bare hands. He has suffered abuse and discrimination as a result of doing the job. People in his community shun him and won’t go anywhere near him.
This is his story:
“We work on the pit latrines, where we use exhausters (pipes through which waste material is emitted) to pull out the human waste. The exhauster sucks out the lighter, biodegradable material. However, there are pieces of cloth, diapers and sanitary pads that cannot be removed using the exhaust pipe. They block the pipes and really slow us down. It forces us to go down into the latrine and pull out the human waste with our bare hands.
“Initially we always did this work with our bare hands and feet. The maggots and filth scared us. We were resented by the very people who created the mess but because the job was so filthy, nobody wanted to associate with us, so we worked at night like thieves.
“The money is not enough to take care of school fees, household needs, rent and all our other needs.”
Practical Action is working in Nakuru to improve the quality of life for slum communities of 190,000 people, by providing access to safe, hygenic toilets and hand washing facilities. And we’re working with Anthony and other pit emptiers to improve their health, enable them to provide an essential service to their community and raise their status.
This World Toilet Day I’m counting my blessings that I have such a fantastic job and if you are too please consider helping people like Anthony and his community to get access to better sanitation, improve their health and restore their dignity.
Please take action and help people access sanitation through a new appeal Practical Action have launched called ‘Safer Cities’. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities. This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!
The recent (2011) census in Nepal revealed that 82.78% of people have access to improved drinking water supply. The figure is satisfying as it indicates crossing the MDG target and approaching the national target of universal coverage. However, there is a big question mark in the quality aspects. Water is a good solvent; it’s often called a universal solvent as many substances are easily dissolved in. Therefore, there is always risk of water contamination. It’s thought that most people are not aware about impurities in water and just judge water with their senses like sight or smell.
A survey conducted by Practical Action in six urban poor communities of mid-western Nepal (Bardiya) in 2009 showed that drinking water is contaminated chemically (ammonia, phosphate, iron and arsenic) and biologically (presence of e-coli). Nevertheless, 89% of respondents in the survey were happy with the quality of drinking water. It was also found that 98% of people didn’t practice any water purifying methods before consumption.
Many people in the developing world – 35% of people in Nepal (census 2011) – rely on tube wells or hand pumps for drinking water. Mostly tube wells extract water from the first aquifer or ground water up to 20 feet. It’s seen that ground water sources in such cases are easily contaminated because of the lack of appropriate management. In many cases in Bardiya, a small pond of stagnant water forms near tube wells. In such cases how can quality water be expected? Further, it is found that water handling and storage is also an issue.
No doubt, water is life, but we need to consider both quantity and quality. Some simple steps like education on water quality, low cost household water treatment options, platform improvement for tube wells, grey water management and proper water handling can make a big difference in water quality that ultimately leads to a healthier life.No Comments » | Add your comment
I gazed at the toddlers giggling playfully as their mothers bathed them, one squatted without a thought to relieve herself. I marveled at their innocence, and how happiness is self-generated from within despite our circumstances. Their water had been warmed under the midday sun. The narrow corridor on which they stood was covered with polythene bags of all shapes and colors. One could only hope that the polythene bags were not flying toilets in their previous lives.
The residents of the plot often suffered from water borne disease that reduced on their productivity. The residents of this plot in the Kaptembwo low income settlement in Nakuru have had to contend with the filth that surrounds them, simply because they are not able to pay more than the Kshs1,800/= rent required of them here. In this particular plot, the 15 household members share two toilets, there is no bathroom. However, last month, the rains were rather heavy and one of the toilets just collapsed. The plot owner was now dragging his feet about putting up another one because the costs are exorbitant and the soils in the area are unstable.
A Comic Relief funded partnership between Practical Action and Umande Trust is implementing a Community Led Total Sanitation Project with modifications to suit the urban setting. The project aims to eliminate Open Defecation and change the residents’ attitudes towards improved hygiene practices. Through this project, the landlord is beginning to see changes within his plot. The residents have attended a couple of hygiene training and are now more eager to maintain cleanliness. He looks forward to the credit facilities that have been organized through this project to construct a modern ablution block complete with two bathrooms!
By Aileen OgollaNo Comments » | Add your comment
What is the weirdest Christmas present you could give any one? For me the Shit Box, cardboard crapper must be a contender. I’m amazed that people seem to be buying it. My daughter gave me a link to a ‘great’ website for Christmas presents and its 33 on their top 100 gifts!
Why would you do it? Why spend £16.99 plus P&P on a cardboard box with a hole in it? AND then use it to go to the loo!
Okay so I’m not their target audience.
But at the risk of sounding like someone’s self-righteous aunt, children are dying from the lack of a loo. Diarrhoea kills 1.5 million children each year, on top of this it’s a leading cause of malnutrition in children under 5. Shit is serious!
So if you have £20 to buy a ‘weird’ prezzie do something more useful – join up with a friend and give money for a decent loo to your favourite charity (overseas of course).
You still have the kudos of buying something weird without the problem of recycling (or contamination – having used a very clean long drop loo I know how hard ……I think any more might just be too much information – but you get my point)
If you are struggling for loo inspired prezzies have a look here.
Give a present that really can make a difference – not one that shows you are a plonker
Whatever you do (and buy) this Christmas have a happy and very, very peaceful one
Auntie Margaret1 Comment » | Add your comment
Some years ago Practical Action was called Intermediate Development Technology Group – am I pleased we changed it! Moving from ITDG wasn’t a universally popular decision but calling ourselves Practical Action better describes what we do.
Many of our projects also have titles which describe perfectly to an organisation, say like the European Commission, what the project is about, but do they tell you what a difference the work will make to someone’s life? Take, ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’, for example. Nothing wrong with the title, it describes exactly what the project is about, but does it tell you what the project will achieve? As a fundraiser, I want to give Trustees/Administrators of Trusts and Foundations, an immediate and human sense of what a difference the project will make to people’s lives. If you don’t engage very busy people, who receive hundreds of proposals a year, in the first few words, how can you expect them to read on to learn more about what an exciting project it is that you’re pitching to them. So what did we call ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’ – while pondering an alternative title, a staff member who happened to be passing, suggested ‘Now Wash Your Hands….’ – genius! Familiar, short and says exactly what one of the aims of the project is. Because that’s what the project hopes to achieve – providing clean water and good quality sanitation for communities in rural Zimbabwe, but as importantly, the water supply to wash their hands after using the toilet, and the knowledge that such an action significantly reduces diseases previously spread by poor hygiene habits.
Any suggestions for an alternative title for ‘Improving the Capacity of Sub National Risk Management Systems and Building the Resilience of Communities Vulnerable to Disaster in Peru’?No Comments » | Add your comment
Practical Action’s SWASHTHA project is addressing major environmental health risks, such as indoor air quality, water quality, sanitation and hygiene to create healthy homes and benefit 30,000 women and children and family members in these households. We are working with people, mainly women and children, from the socially excluded communities and marginalised ethnic and other caste groups in urban areas of Bharatpur, Butwal, Gularia and Tikapur municipalities.
Most memorable moment: Two really super bits for me personally today, firstly interviewing the woman from the co-op about her life and family and also sketching at the Dalit village with a huge crowd of little children watching.
Best person you met today: The interviewee – she was so gracious and willing, after a little initial hesitancy, and it was great to find that life for her family had most certainly improved because of the Practical Action dairy project.
What made you stop and think? So much! Again, being impressed by the calibre of Practical Action’s staff. Today it was Prakesh, the vet. So clear what value there is in being able to provide such professional expertise where it is needed. Good to see the mutual respect of all who are involved.
Anything else you want to say? I had to remind myself not to romanticise the life of the villagers. On such a lovely sunny day like this, with such welcomes everywhere, it looked good.
Most memorable moment: Watching Helen and a Nepali woman totally engaged with each other while Practical Action supporters, local villagers and children milled around them.
Best person you met today: Pratibha Acharya, a 17 year old Nepali girl currently in school and planning to go on to college and study farm management.
What made you stop and think?
Anything else you want to say? Last visit to Nawalparasi library didn’t work well because we met nobody who had personally benefitted from Practical Action work or projects.
Most memorable moment: The visit to the SWASTHA village and the changes to people’s lives by water, improved kitchens, and proper loos. Helen sketching by the river!
Best person you met today: Shanta Lama, a lady interviewed about SWASTHA and her comment about her improved kitchen which had led to fewer arguments!
What made you stop and think? The loss of land suffered by the farmer, Mana Badudur, at the DIPECHO site but his belief that he is no longer scared and felt safe/secure
Most memorable moment: Keshab Raj Achasoja and Ram Hazi Avyal heartily and joyously singing from the Muhabarat at the Thiskuni Community Library. Keshab co-ordinates the library’s religious programme – providing a place, musical instruments and books for those in the community wanting to celebrate their religion. He just took down a copy of the Muhabarat from the shelves and started singing and his friend joined in – infectious joy and a great picture He said, ‘Before the library we could just eat and sleep, take care of the animals, sometimes play cards. Now people come here, see all the books and magazines and know about the rest of the world.’
Best person you met today: Prakesh who runs the Kamadhere DFID-funded Practical Action project helping farmers with getting decent breeding stock, advice and expertise on food, help on animal health and much more. A great find for Practical Action as he trained as a vet for 5 ½ years at the only vet college in Nepal – others there went abroad to make a living, while Prakesh went to an NGO to use his skills for the community and then to Practical Action to set up and run an inspiring project with local co-operatives to produce more food and improve the livelihoods of some of the poorest.
What made you stop and think? Two examples of harnessing the knowledge of experts to help people help themselves 1. Prakesh and his work as a vet with local farmers 2. The Practical Answers interactive session at the library – Kemal Kent Singh, agricultural technician with a local agricultural company with expertise in manure, fertilisers and plants – was the expert brought in to answer interactively by computer the latest batch of questions from the farmers.
Anything else you want to say? Children – lots of wonderful incidents today with great children enjoying being photographed and being indulged by their families and all on the Practical Action expedition, from 6 year old Aurit who had to be in, and pose for, every photo and clearly should be a Hollywood star – to 11 and 12 year old Deepika, Gianga and Pabitra (and their nan) who already learned quite a bit of English and had lovely writing. All kids and families have benefitted from the projects we saw – and some of whom now have higher expectations of their future than we would have heard some years ago. When did Nepalese children learn words like ‘handshake’ and ‘high five’? Lots of laughter and smiles – great!
Most memorable moment: At Shree Kamadhenu Milk Co-operative Improved Cattle Resource Centre (phew!) the gentle pride and love shown in the way the men talked bout their cows and touched them, and talked about them.
Best person you met today: At the Grass Cultivation Centre, the man who explained how Napier grass is cut and gave me a root of it. Also the man who invited me to see his new house and his cows but then said actually his wife built the house. And the man who wanted me to see his 600 chickens.
What made you stop and think? At the Dalit village – Chainspur – I thought the cow-funding arrangements surprisingly tight and fast-moving (11 families per month enabled to buy cows) and I guess I began to grasp how much involvement there is from members of groups – co-ops, Practical Action, UKAID, Nepali, community forest user group, etc, etc – and banks, chambers of commerce etc. And at the library, Practical Answers’ support on technical queries – after local experts have been asked to solve issues raised at Community meetings.
Anything else you want to say? Children – lots of wonderful incidents today with great children enjoying being photographed and being indulged by their families and all on the Practical Action expedition, from 6 year old Aurit who had to be in, and pose for, every photo and clearly should be a Hollywood star – to 11 and 12 year old Deepika, Gianga and Pabitra (and their nan) who already learned quite a bit of English and had lovely writing. Ll kids and families have benefitted from the projects we saw – and some of whom now have higher expectations of their future than we would have heard some years ago. When did Nepalese children learn words like ‘handshake’ and ‘high five’? Lots of laughter and smiles – great!No Comments » | Add your comment
During a recent conversation with Reckson Matengarufu, one of our Project Officers working on water and sanitation projects in the Gwanda District, I was amazed with the way the community has been transformed by this project, with women now taking an active role in water and sanitation issues.
Zimbabwe’s rural populations are largely conservative. Men take a leading role in most activities. But, this is changing in the project’s target wards, where, in the past, women were only responsible for fetching water and taking care of household chores. It was taboo for them to be seen getting involved on issues to do with borehole repairs and maintenance as it was considered a men’s job. Now, that migration from rural to urban areas has increased in Zimbabwe, and particularly in Gwanda where men seek greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa, women have been left to fend for themselves.
In a very dry environment like Gwanda, water is scarce, broken water points mean that women and girls bear the brunt of walking long distances to fetch water for daily domestic use.
Faced with these challenges, do women really have to wait for their husbands to come back home during the holidays and service the boreholes? NO!, women in Gwanda have been empowered and are now able to carry out borehole maintenance tasks and repairs efficiently. Men and women can now work together for the benefit of their communities.
Mrs. Mary Mufiri (52), one of the women who has taken a new role as a pump minder is a mother of four. Her husband has been working in South Africa since 1998.
She told me, “I am very proud of this role that I now have within the village. Before this, some of our water points had not been working for very long periods. This meant that we has to walk up to 5 kilometres to fetch water or use unprotected sources.”
This work is a result of Practical Action Southern Africa’s three year project ”Enhancing Community Participation in Governance of Water and Sanitation Service Delivery in Rural Gwanda District” which began in August 2011, funded by the European Commission. The project seeks to contribute towards democratising the management and governance of communal water and sanitation infrastructure in Zimbabwe, demonstrating inclusive and replicable approaches for the delivery of basic water and sanitation services. You can find out more about Practical Action’s water and sanitation programme here.4 Comments » | Add your comment
What difference we made? I asked our team members and partners in Nakuru, where we are leading this with the Ministry of Public Health. They said that traditionally it used to be a high level meeting, when politicians and senior government officials come and deliver speeches. We have taken this day to the lowest income areas and involved the community. Brought new methods, technologies and approaches. It fits very well with our sanitation programme in Nakuru. We saw a very high turnout of people and a good media coverage.No Comments » | Add your comment
Let us get involved on Global Hand Washing Day on 15th October
A study performed by Practical Action Nepal Office with its partners in 2009 in peri-urban areas of Gulariya municipality in mid-west revealed that most of the people wash their hands before eating food and after going to toilet.
The survey performed in six poor communities with more than 5,000 people showed that 99 and 93 percent people wash their hand before eating food and after going to toilet respectively. It shows that still there are some people who do not wash hands in critical times.
Another figure is even scarier: only 12 percent people wash hand with soap water before eating food; mostly (85 percent) wash hands just with water. More than 50 percent people do not wash hand with soap water after going to toilet. It is also interesting to know that there is a misconception that the excreta of breast feeding children is not harmful; thus people do not wash their hand after touching it. More than 40 percent people admitted not washing their hand after anal cleansing of their children.
Each year 1.5 million people mostly children less than five years old die because of diarrhea globally. Proper hand washing with soap is the most effective intervention in order to reduce such losses. It is more relevant in case of Nepal as most of the people use hands for anal cleansing as well as eating food creating high risks of fecal oral transmission. Looking at the importance of hand washing, global hand washing day has begun to celebrate since 2008 on every 15th of October. This year on 15th of October more than 100 countries are celebrating hand washing day with a theme on “Help More Children Reach Their 5th Birthday”.
Similar to other developing countries, water sanitation related diseases are amongst the top killers in Nepal. 14700 people are dying each year because of unsafe water, lack of sanitation and unhygienic behaviors. An another estimate shows that 12700 children under five die because of acute respiratory infection (ARI) and diarrheal disease annually due to poor hygiene and sanitation. There is about 10 billion Nepalese Rupees (£7.4 million) loss each year in terms of health expenses, loss of productivity and negative effect in tourism because of poor hygiene and environmental sanitation.
To overcome this situation awareness raising on the importance of hand washing with soap water in critical time is very important. Capacity building of existing local change agents like female community health volunteers (FCHVs), school teachers and students then their mobilization in raising awareness can accelerate better health outcomes.
On the other hand, there are other significant proportions of people who know about the importance but not practicing accordingly. There is a proverb that it is very difficult to wake a person pretending to be sleeping – because behavior change is complex. People normally do not easily accept the new habits although it is beneficial for them. One of the effective ways is to train people since their childhood. House and school can be a good platform to gain healthy habits. Generally, hand washing facilities like wash basin and soap case are kept in such a way that it is very difficult to reach by children. Thus, there is also a need to consider child friendly facilities in schools where children spend a significant proportion of time. Children can be effective change agents. There are several examples that children have changed the habit of adults.
There is no doubt that proper hand washing with soap water saves life. Washing hands with water alone is significantly less effective than washing with soap no mater of any type. Other personal hygiene along with integration of safe drinking water and better sanitation further reduce environmental health risk. Prevention is always better than cure; thus let us join hands for creating healthy homes through healthy habits and leaving unhygienic behaviors.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Every day, several times (I hope) each one of us goes to the loo. We take sewage systems that not only function but are pretty invisible and don’t smell for granted. But it hasn’t always been this way;
In London in the 1860s terrible smells from the Thames caused the government to develop new sewerage systems which in turn dramatically improved health – death rates per 1,000 dropping from 24 in 1870 to 19 in 1890.
And then there was Florence Nightingale fresh air, soap and water reduced the death rate of hospitalised soldiers in the Crimea from 42% to 2.2% in 4 months.
But why the history lesson?
Shit matters. Sanitation remains one of the biggest development challenges – it’s just something we don’t like to think or talk about.
According to WHO 37% of the developing world’s population – 2.5 billion people don’t have access to decent sanitation facilities. In urban slums lack of access to household sanitation is a particular issue for women. For some social norms about women not been seen to defecate in the open keep then confined until the hours of darkness, leading to medical problems and much greater risk of being attacked. For women and particularly young girls as they start to menstruate no access to loos can mean no school and embarrassment.
You will of course have heard of flying toilets – plastic bags people crap in and then fling as far as possible often pretending it wasn’t them and/or caring who the bag hits or where it lands.
Transmission of waterborne diseases such as cholera are exacerbated by environmental pollution and low levels of personal hygiene. In Zimbabwe an inspirational cholera nurse described the disease as eating or drinking a stool – not a good thought!
This is technology injustice. We’ve known about the advantages of sanitation for more than 100 years yet many millions of people don’t have access.
Practical Action are delivering big WASH (water supply, sanitation and hygiene) programmes and we are ambitious to do more. For example in Kenya we plan in our new strategy to directly improve the water and sanitation access of 850,000 people. We will work in the slums of 10 cities and towns on things like the construction of loos, hand washing facilities and showers, latrine emptying, etc.
Shit matters and is personal – I can’t imagine life without my loo, when I’ve had to for short periods on visits overseas without access to a toilet I’ve crossed my legs, felt embarrassed by bushes and thanked God for even the most basic latrine. We have to be prepared to talk about sanitation as it’s too easy to pretend shit really doesn’t happen. We can’t end shit we can make sure it’s well taken care of!2 Comments » | Add your comment