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Entrenching good hygiene in Machinga

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READY—One of the modern toilets

By Tiyese Monjeza:

The unbearable stench, triggered by the unconventional way of disposing human waste in most parts of Machinga District, was a common feature.

No wonder the family of Maria Kamwana, a resident of Kaudzu Village in the district, which is about five Kilometres from Liwonde Township, has been having it hard. Her three children have perpetually been battling Diarrhea, a development that has also had a huge impact on her fish business.

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Kaudzu Village lies along the Shire River in the area of Senior Chief Sitola, where majority of the people engage in fishing and fish mongering.

Kamwana, who is a single mother, has on numerous abandoned her fish business due to illness of her three children.

“My business entails that I should wake up early in the morning to travel to the river to buy fish and later sell it at Liwonde Township. However, the persistent sickness of my children made my business suffocate,” Kamwana said.

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She said she had no toilet at the time. Alternatively, she would use her neighbour’s latrine while her children would relieve themselves in a garden located close to a shallow well, used as a water source for the family.

The story of Kamwana marries with what National Open Defecation Free (ODF) Malawi Strategy 2011-2015 indicated that Diarrhea posed significant health risks for rural population and accounted for 18% of deaths in the country.

That startling revelation propelled the Ministry of Health to formulate the National ODF taskforce in the country as a push towards meeting Sustainable Developmental Goals pertaining to sanitation and hygiene.

Almost, four years after the rolling out of the strategy, the country is still struggling to ensure that people are not practicing open defecation.

Surprisingly, the indicators that are taken into consideration in declaring an area open defecation free tempts one to assume that a majority of Malawians can easily manage to improve their hygiene and sanitation.

Some of the indicators used are; that all households should have latrines, hand washing facilities be placed next to the latrine and that there should be no trace of human wastes at any place within a village.

These indicators are proving to be a tall order for ordinary Malawians to achieve, that is, if we go by the results of a review report of the strategy which indicated that only 40% of Traditional Authorities in the country attained ODF status by the year 2018.

The area of Senior Chief Sitola, where Kamwana resides, is one of those where people have, over the years, borne the consequences of not having latrines within their confines.

This was despite several interventions by the District Health Office and other stakeholders implementing water and sanitation related programmes in the area. They spearheaded construction of latrines at each household. The story of Kamwana is just an example of how 55,216 people in the area were being haunted by challenges for not having a modern toilet.

According to Sitola Area Development Committee chairperson Jaidu Mkumba, the area has sandy soil, which forces toilet pits to collapse once they are dug.

‘The sandy soil texture hampered efforts for us to have toilets. Toilets would only stand for a month and then collapse. People gave up on owning a toilet and open defecation was a common trend in the area,” Mkumba said.

He further said waterborne diseases like Cholera and Diarrhea were on the increase and that hindered development projects.

However, this is now all history following construction of 2,880 latrines in the area, courtesy of a project dubbed ‘Machinga Sanitation Project’ which Emmanuel International Malawi, with funding from United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) through Organised Network for Services for Everyone (Onse) implemented in the area.

According to the project officer, James Nyirongo, the project which was implement from July last year, involved sensitizing communities on the importance of owning a latrine.

He said, the project mentored communities to construct modern affordable cheaper toilets suiting the soil texture of the area and boreholes.

“Once a pit is dug, brick walls should be constructed along the edges of the pit. This is to ensure that the pit does not collapse. The pit is then covered with a concrete slab,” Nyirongo said.

He further said the use of concrete to cover the top of the toilet pit serves the cutting down of trees, where logs of trees are used to cover pit when constructing the traditional toilets.

Senior Chief Sitola said, he has since introduced bylaws where everyone is encouraged to use pit latrines and adhere to hygiene practices.

“We are hopeful that with the coming in of this initiative, we will have reduced cases of diarrhea and other waterborne diseases. The Community Health Action Groups will be periodically inspecting the households to ensure the toilets are always taken care of,” Sitola said.

Machinga District Environmental Health Officer, Mathews Kalaya said currently, 16 Traditional Authorities (TAs) out of 21 in the district have now attained ODF status, a development which he believes will help reduce cases of waterborne diseases such as Dysentery, Cholera and Diarrhea.

“Prevention is better than cure. By ensuring communities have modern toilets, it means we are serving costs used to purchase medicine needed to treat the communities when they are sick. We will be sending our team to ensure people are following recommended hygienic uses of latrines,” Kalaya said.

If citizens embark on construction of modern pit latrines, the behaviour of defecating anyhow will be reduced, eventually reducing illnesses that arise due to the tendency

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