By Blessings Phumisa, UNICEF Malawi
In the lakeshore district of Karonga in northern Malawi, cholera took away eight precious lives in 2018. Diarrhoea, caused by poor sanitation and hygiene, and unsafe drinking water, was the major underlying cause behind this preventable tragedy. Out here, it is without exaggeration to state that access to toilet, hygiene and sanitation can be the difference between life and death especially children’s as they are more vulnerable to cholera outbreaks.
Karonga district has taken this matter seriously and the locally-constructed latrines and handwashing stands in the Lupaso Primary School stand as strong evidence. Children in this school have learned to regularly and properly wash their stands with soap outside the latrines.
On November 19, as Malawi commemorated the World Toilet Day and Global Handwashing Day, the entire nation’s much-deserved focus was in Karonga. The government in collaboration with UNICEF and other partners in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) gathered on the grounds of this school, to reflect on the importance of leaving no one behind in accessing sanitation and hygiene, a central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Addressing over 3,000 people gathered to celebrate the day, the Deputy Director of Preventive Health Services, Allone Marko Ganizani, pointed out that the occasion had coincided with the beginning of Cholera season in Malawi. He said six percent of the population in Malawi struggle due to lack of sanitation.
“Let me, therefore, call upon all concerned stakeholders to join the Malawi Government’s efforts to prioritize building of toilets to promote universal access to sanitation and hygiene for all, without discrimination,” he said.
As Karonga district moves towards attaining open defecation free status, Senior Chief Mwirang’ombe, a representative of Paramount Chief Kyungu, issued a rallying call to all local traditional leaders to make use of the power that they wield to stop open defecation and encourage the use of modern latrines throughout the district.
“Let’s support all the development partners working in our communities by putting sanitation and hygiene at the centre of our lives,” said the Chief.
Working with implementing partners Water for People, Hygiene Village Project and Participatory Development Initiative, UNICEF showcased innovative sanitation products which included Sato pans and goose neck latrines, as well as a gulper used in emptying pit latrines. UNICEF has worked with these partners to establish funds to help communities access these improved sanitation products on credit. UNICEF is also promoting private sector involvement in sanitation.
UNICEF WASH Officer, John Kanyama, says the innovations are meant to move households up the sanitation ladder and push the country towards safely managed sanitation services in line with Sustainable Development Goal 6.2.
“Access to latrine facilities has increased in the country because of community-led total sanitation. However, collection, disposal and treatment of faecal sludge from these facilities remain a challenge. UNICEF is supporting the government in strengthening the sanitation value chain to ensure that the country can attain safely managed sanitation services,” he said.
As crowds begin to leave following the end of the successful commemoration of the day in Karonga, a girl rushes to use the toilet that had earlier in the day been cleaned by the event’s guest of honour. After using the toilet, she is excited to use the locally made stand for washing hands.