By Mustapha Sesay
Wash media network Sierra Leone
November 19th is World Toilet Day, a day specially set aside to raise awareness on the need for access to good toilet facilities as 2.5 billion people are without access to a clean, private toilet.
Sanitation is a fundamental human right, 297 million African women and girls lack safe and adequate sanitation and of those 107 million do not have a toilet at all.
On this note, as we continue to observe this year’s World Toilet Day, there are a lot of questions that deserve consideration. Prominent among are how is the country struggling to cope with the construction of toilet in the Urban and Rural areas? What are the facilities for public toilets in the urban towns? Are houses making adequate provision for toilet facilities before their construction? And how can we stop the poor toilet facilities in our areas.
Years back, it was a laudable venture for those building houses to first put in place sanitation facilities as there were Sanitary Inspector Officers who went from place to place at different times to inspect and find defaulters. With this, most places were not only conducive for human habitation but also lack the risk of high infection.
In schools, the toilets were cleaned at regular intervals for the use of children, and teachers were encouraged to teach Health and Sanitation topics. With this, most classrooms were equipped with buckets containing water and toiletries for the washing of hand before eating or after the use of the toilet.
There were strict policies for improved sanitation in schools. Special sites were located for the dumping of waste materials that were later burnt at the end of the day. It is unfortunate that with the advent of the war, a lot of mushroom dwellings and schools erupted at various places with little regards for the health status of the children.
This trend continues today as most heads of schools are more interested in making money than the welfare of the pupils thereby using uncompleted structures to house pupils. At most of their places, children are forced to leave the school compound for neighbouring houses to ease themselves. In some instances, where dysentery affects the pupils, most are left with no option but to mess up themselves.
It is an established fact that most schools do not have special toilets for girls as the one or two toilets are meant for over five hundred to one thousand children.
This is a major detriment to school children especially the girl child. In our town, it is no surprise that in the morning hours, people have been warned not to take wrapped black plastic bags along the road side. The reason being that at night toilets are placed into these black plastic bags and late at night, thrown in the streets as more of these houses are without toilets and the little spaces left have also been converted into commercial use.
The desperate situation is compared to some settlement in the city of Monrovia where (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Journalists for West Africa) one was opportune to get firsthand experience about their poor sanitation or toilet facilities for over a million residents living along the coastal areas. For them, the use of plastic bags to defecate and later thrown in the street at night is a common practice. Despite promises from authorities, the situation continues to exist.
In the rural areas where most Non-Governmental Organizations working on Sanitation do not have access, Open defecation is the order of the day. Many hold the notion that this act helps to replenish the lost nutrients in the used agricultural land. This is another way of spreading airborne diseases as flies sit on the infested toilets and later transmit the diseases on open food.
According to research no intervention has saved more lives than the construction of decent toilets in our schools or environments.
It is alarming to note that as one travels along the major streets of our urban town and cities, it is common to hear or note that the sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated into the rivers or the sea thereby polluting then and the coastal areas. Their reason being that enough structure or policies have not been put in place for the toilet or the city utilities. It is a matter of concern that very few and unkempt public toilets exist thereby resulting in people making long lines wanting to use these restrooms. Unlike the slum areas of Monrovia, children who cannot afford to pay would openly go to the river to bath or toilet.
As we celebrate this year’s World Toilet Day, policy makers, the Councils and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation will note that the construction of decent toilets at home or in public places bring dignity to oneself, privacy, safety and curtail health risks.
With this, it was prudent to those who thought of the idea on 2001, 19th November to observe this day as an annual event so as to raise awareness, break this taboo involved around toilets and draw the attention of all to this issue of toilet facilities for all.
It is with this backdrop that the Water, and Sanitation Media Network, a sub-regional group in Sierra Leone (WASH Journalists Sierra Leone) is trying to draw the attention of policy makers, Landlords and other agencies to make more public toilets and to empower Sanitary Inspectors to take to task houses without toilet facilities in the urban areas
In a press release issued by Water Aid, every seven in ten women in sub-Sahara Africa have no access to safe toilet which is threatening their health status and also exposing them to shame, fear and violence
According to Barbara Frost, Chief Executive of WaterAid, “When women don’t have a safe, secure and private place to go to the toilet they are exposed and put in a vulnerable position and when they relieve themselves in the open they risk harassment. Women are reluctant to talk about it or complain, but the world cannot continue to ignore this.”
“Adequate sanitation, coupled with access to clean, safe water to drink, transforms lives, improving health, safety and productivity. Governments are urged to take action and invest in access to sanitation and water.”
At this point, WASH Journalist Sierra Leone joins others to call for total commitment to access decent toilets and sanitation facilities.
World Toilet Day
By Mustapha Sesay