Bush toilet system: Health hazard

For long, rural dwellers have been using the bush toilet system, oblivious of the health and environmental dangers that this way of life poses.

The fact that it has become normal for people to use open spaces as toilets does not take away the health hazards.
“Over 40 percent of the rural folk in Zimbabwe are still practising open defecation, and this raises concerns on disease outbreaks which are costly to manage,” said Elizabeth Mupfumira, a communications specialist from the United Nation’s Children Fund.

A United Nations report, “Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment”, authored by the Unicef and the World Health Organisation, also says that cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea and malaria are fueled by open defecation and they claim the highest number of children under the age of five years old each year.

The report added: “Most people in developing countries have no access to toilets. As such, they continue to pollute water sources and jeopardise public health and safety for their citizens.”
Health expert Frank Makombe concurs.

“Open defecation leads to contaminated water sources, soil and land. This contamination is what creates the health crisis,” he said.

Gender activist Anoziva Marindire believes issues of open defecation seriously affect women and girls. “The lack of basic sanitation profoundly impacts women and girls more than boys and men. Without proper toilet facilities, for instance, women and girls constantly risk rape and sexual assault while defecating in the open,” she added.

Water and sanitation development practitioner, Matthew Chiramba says failure to use toilets is one of the clearest manifestations of extreme poverty.

“Roughly it costs between $150 and $250 to construct a simple toilet. This amount is too much for most rural dwellers, and as such building a toilet is not a priority for many.

“In fact, some opt for makeshifts or are forced to part ways with three to four goats or bags of maize equivalent to $150 and $250 if they want a simple toilet,” he said.

Chiramba added that despite the costs, some people have built toilets at their homesteads, but due to some beliefs, the bush toilet system is still prevalent in most rural areas.
“Sanitation is still often surrounded by taboos. There are people who still believe that it is forbidden for human waste to be kept somewhere (in a sewage system),” he said.

Edison Nyahwa, an environmental expert believes ending open defecation is vital for human health.

“To benefit human health, it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural areas. Sanitation and hygiene are engines that drive health, social and economic development, and contribute to a cleaner environment,” he said.

Sharing Nyahwa’s views, Admire Betera, who is also an environmental expert, says: “To end open defecation, citizens must be informed of the issue as well as the necessity of using proper toilets; without awareness and a change in the stigmatisation of open defecation, nothing will change.”

James Mhlanga, a traditional leader and councilor for Ward 12 in Buhera North, adds that people need to be taught the value of sanitation.

“People need to be conscientised about the dangers of open defecation, and because of our influence in communities, it is our duty as traditional leaders to raise awareness and encourage families to build simple toilets on their own.”

Importantly, Mhlanga urged rural communities to come up with Sanitation Action Groups (SAGs), teams of dedicated locally-based cadres instituted to get community buy-in and to further support community initiatives in the construction of latrines.

Mhlanga is spot on as villages that adopted SAGs such as the Zebra Village in the Mtetengwe area in Beitbridge West tell a success story of good sanitation.

In Zebra village, a sanitation action group (SAG) of seven members has been working tirelessly to ensure that most households have toilets, and the achievement is remarkable.
Masimba Mavhudzi, a development practitioner, believes the issue can best be addressed if the government, private and public organisations and business communities join hands to help rural people construct pit latrines.

“The government, together with non-government organisations such as the World Vision and Christian Care, succeeded in their efforts to build toilets for rural citizens and end open defecation. Though the efforts are commendable, more needs to be done to eradicate open defecation,” he said.

Mavhudzi also said schools and clinics in rural areas need to take an advocacy role for improved access to Knowledge and information management expert Stancelous Mverechena added: “To totally eliminate the practice of open defecation and improve sanitation in the country, especially in our rural areas, we need to talk about it: to discuss the facts, the consequences as well as the possible panaceas.”—Lazarus Sauti

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