Sunday, 18 March 2012

Poo in Tongo

Two hours drive North of Goma is a village called Tongo. Tongo is situated along the Virunga National Park, where currently there is an active volcano. Most people in this area don’t have latrines or access to clean running water and proper health facilities. Tongo is one of the field sites I travel regularly to. I wanted to share a case study I have written for Tearfund and the work we have been doing within this community. I am inspired by this community, who has been devastated by the conflict, but yet are motivated to spend what little they have from their harvest (often less than $7) on construction and materials to build their own latrines. The communities themselves are the true sanitation heroes in DRC.

Community-Led Sanitation Initiatives Bring Change to DR Congo
Sanitation and public health in Democratic Republic of Congo is in a precarious position. While peace was officially declared in 2002 in DRC, conflict between various armed groups and atrocities against civilians, especially women, continues. Some parts of the Congolese military (FARDC), as well as rebel fighters , remain a security concern in eastern and north-eastern DRC. These armed groups - located especially in North Kivu and South Kivu are known to violate and loot communities in the region. Communities in these regions continue to live in the midst of instability and uncertainty as they attempt to rebuild their lives after the war, and maintain healthy communities.

Thus, the effects of the conflict can still be felt as few people have access to basic services, particularly water and sanitation, which poses serious health threats such as the spread of water-borne and sanitation related diseases. According to the Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) for DRC 2011, a majority of Congolese people do not live to see their 50th birthday. In fact the second greatest cause of mortality in DRC is diarrhoea, which could be reduced significantly with better access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene services. As the state has failed to provide sustainable services, conditions in DRC are ripe for community driven sanitation solutions.

Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), an approach which empowers local communities to take sanitation solutions into their own hands and build their own latrines using local materials, is being pioneered by Tearfund in this complex emergency in eastern DRC. In 2010, Tearfund’s Disaster Management Team (DMT) piloted CLTS in 6 villages in Pangi & Kailo, an area in Maniema Province. This produced very positive results in which people started to build their own latrines that very afternoon after CLTS trainings helped them to realise that, as a result of practising open defecation in their communities, they’d basically been eating their own and other people’s poo. A number of village women instantly called their husbands back from town to get them to help dig the latrine pits. Since this time many communities are welcoming CLTS in Maniema and across eastern DRC, as they spread sanitation messages and transform their villages into those that are now open defecation free.

Case Study: Village of Tshoko, Tongo, North Kivu Province, D.R. Congo ( 1,128 population/ 188 households)
In Tshoko, a squatter community in, Tongo, most people have never used a latrine and many do not even own the land upon which their homes are built. As Tongo is bordering Virunga National Park, a chronically insecure area with constant rebel movement, many people have been reluctant to build any costly infrastructure in addition to their homes, for fear of having to flee into the bush at any given time, leaving their assets behind them. As people haven’t used money to build community or family latrines, the community had developed the habit of using the fields nearby as a place to openly defecate. Only a handful of households actually had their own latrine prior the CLTS training period.

Scarcity of building resources is a common problem in the operating areas in complex emergencies. In Tshoko, gaining access to construction materials such as wood, poles, bamboo and corrugated iron sheeting is very difficult as the FDLR and other armed militias control a majority of these materials found in the nearby forest, and it is dangerous for community members to travel in the forested areas. Community members are often subject to looting and ambushing of their property and materials. Most inhabitants fear going out to the forest and collecting materials and are not able to afford buying the materials from militia groups if they do venture out. This community also do not have access to the tools they needed in order to dig simple pit latrines. Population displacement in Tshoko as a result of the conflict is the reason why most community members have lost essential household items such as seeds, tools, household utensils and assets.

A small tool subsidy proved to encourage the process of CLTS triggering, and in many cases sped the process up as people were motivated to put their names on the waiting list for tool usage. Most people in the community when asked only could afford to spend $6 or less on the materials for the latrine. Community members reported they would have not been able to start work on their own latrines without the small tool subsidy. Conflict -induced resource shortages and potential stresses on the environment and should be taken in considering when planning for CLTS triggering in emergencies.

Yet the use of subsidies must be limited if not avoided in communities where CLTS triggering is happening. In the past, emergency donations from well-intentioned NGOs, such as latrine slabs were given to this particular community without the critical component of health promotion / education. This yielded ineffective and unsustainable results. When walking through the village, one could even see the unused latrine slabs, lying on the ground with grass and weeds growing over them.

After the CLTS training, it was as if the entire community experienced a hygienic epiphany. Community members began to realise they could not healthy lives without building latrines. The community became excited to use the old, unused slabs previously given by other NGOs to build their new latrines. Community members even began to walk long distances to find materials in areas that weren’t controlled by militias as they wanted their community to be healthy for their families to live in, with hopes of eliminating the problem of open defecation in the nearby fields.

Mrs. Nyirakazimana, resident of Tshoko,Tongo

Interview with Mrs. Nyirakazimana, resident of Tshoko

Family situation / size: 9 people in the house (7 children and 2 parents)
Work/occupation: Farmer

‘We live on a plot that does not belong to us. As the plot belongs to the plantation we work every day in the proprietor’s fields to pay our rent. Until Tearfund’s CLTS training here, we did not understand the importance of building a latrine. I can say that, my family, our neighbours and our community, we all lived amidst the stool and dirt, but we didn’t understand how it was affecting us.

To this day, all of my children know that each time they use the toilet, they must cover the latrine hole and leave it clean. I find that since me and my neighbour have built latrines after Tearfund’s help, our children are sick much less than before. Tearfund’s CLTS intervention has really helped with regards to our children’s health. My husband and I make sure that our latrine is clean, from the interior to the exterior. We are proud of our latrine.

Tearfund’s project helped me to discover that the family latrine is extremely important. My family continues to use all the information on hygiene that we received from Tearfund. Practically speaking, my children are healthier now than they’ve ever been. My husband provided 4500 Congolese Francs ($5) to buy the wood that we used to build our latrine platform. We had to be careful where we got the wood from because of the militia groups. Though this may seem like a lot of money (and it is), it is an insignificant amount when I compare it to what we used to pay the clinic when our children would become sick. In this way, we’ve been able to save a little bit more money every month.

With the arrival of Tearfund we have benefited from training and awareness of hygiene issues. A number of months ago, I built my toilet and ever since Tearfund’s training I’ve poured ash inside the toilet hole to reduce odours. Before, the fields were so smelly because we used them openly as our toilet. But now, with new latrines and the use of ash, there are no more smells. I have also know thanks to Tearfund now that I should cover the hole so as to reduce the flies inside the latrine. All of my children wash their hands after using the toilet. Our needs are many, but in priority I believe that clean water is very important for us. Another need is knowledge. My community and our neighbours need to be sensitised more and more so that we’ll grown in our knowledge and understanding of the importance of family latrines.’

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