Time to Reflect

‘Business as usual’ is no longer the way forward within the sanitation sector and some major re-thinking needs to happen in order to accelerate sanitation coverage. The first part of this process is to reflect on what you are trying to achieve on your sanitation project and what we know about how this occurs without outside support.

What are you trying to achieve?

This may seen a very basic question, but one that is seldom asked. Is your project about providing latrines, or developing a system of sustainable excreta disposal? What do you understand by the term ‘sanitation’? There is a need to be specific to remove ambiguity and allow your project to gain focus.

Sustainable excreta disposal can only be said to have been achieved when:

  • latrines are being consistently used by all members of the family
  • the community / society is maintaining latrine coverage at 100% without external support
  • there is no significant risk to community health from disposal techniques
  • there is no significant degradation of the environment
  • it can be maintained over a prolonged period i.e. 20 years

Why do households want latrines?

When you woke up this morning did you consider going out to defecate in your garden rather than use the toilet? Have you ever considered why you use a toilet? Is public health a major consideration when you select where you are going to deposit yesterday’s lunch? Unsurprisingly people all over the world want something similar; somewhere comfortable, private, pleasant to defecate and to be afforded as much dignity as is possible.

If you live in a rural area with your nearest neighbour 200 metres away, open defecation may meet all your needs and you may have no desire to change. If you live in a cramped high density urban slum, open defecation will probably fail to meet your needs. Before starting on any project one of the first steps therefore it is essential to understand the householders’ attitudes and needs for improved sanitation. Careful attention needs to be given to understanding the householders’ reasons for change.

Who are building latrines at the moment

Every day in the world millions of households build latrines for themselves, without subsidy. Most new household sanitation in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world has been, and continues to be, privately acquired by households through their own efforts. The contribution of public-sponsored construction actually represents a very small fraction of the progress made over the last decade.

Understanding what to do in areas of low latrine coverage. Where coverage is low and sanitation technologies are unfamiliar, your project will have to start from ‘scratch’, particularly with households that have never before allocated money, time or effort to buying, building and maintaining a household latrine.

Providing components and the mason to build it may just result in a beautifully constructed latrine but one that the householder happily walks past on their way to their traditional open defecation site. Getting households to change deeply ingrained defecation practices is a long, slow process requiring patience and a well thought out structured approach.

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