Thirty-Five-year old, Ibikari James( not real name) resides in one of the riverine communities of Rivers State. He has been used to open defecation since he was born and does not see anything wrong with the ancient traditions and practices of his people.
Infact, he believes that open defecation aids aquatic life as fishes in the river benefit directly from this practice which, according to him, makes fishes to be nutritious when they are caught by fishermen for consumption.
Ibikari James is not alone because thousands of riverine dwellers like him do not have any alternative.
These age-long beliefs and practices ironically contribute to sicknesses and diseases that ravage our rural communities when viewed against the background that a gram of feces which is the size of a cube of sugar carries ten million viruses and one million bacteria and 1,000 pathogens.
To promote behavior change and make riverine communities to use eco-friendly latrines, UNICEF is currently supporting an innovation called the Dry Pit Drum Latrine.
This easy-to-build-and-maintain facility consists of two drums, 10 yards of tarpaulin, four roofing sheets and five different sizes of wood.
What are the factors that informed UNICEF to embark on this life-saving venture?
Health workers listed the following: (a) High cost of building-improved latrine (b) High water table (c) Threat of ground water contamination (d) Land inadequacy (e) Logistics problems associated with transportation of materials (f) Lack of appropriate and affordable design option and (g) The settlement pattern of the people (h) Lack of dislodgement pattern for the Riverine communities.(i) Lack of low cost latrine option for the riverine communities. Investigations have shown that Dry Pit Drum Latrine innovation which is quite cheap and affordable will reduce the disease transmission from feaco-oral routes.
In addition, organic manure and urea that will be generated after using the facility between a period of three to five months depending on the household will support agriculture and boost food production in the State.
To support the implementation of the use of this facility, UNICEF recently assembled WASH Unit Officers, Health Officers, NGOs, CBOs and the Media drawn from all the communities in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of the State for a five-day hands-on training at Abonnema, the local government headquarters.
Addressing the participants, the Akuku Toru LGA UNICEF WASH Consultant, Mrs Theodora, said the training was organized because of the challenges facing the communities, and in a bid to support riverine communities in Akuku Toru LGA attain Open defecation Free status before the end of 2017.
“We found out after sanitation awareness that land space, high water table, lack of appropriate dislodgement pattern, lack of land space and no low cost latrine option were challenges facing the people.
As a result, UNICEF started thinking of affordable latrine option for the communities to scale up and accelerate the pace for the attainment of Open Defecation Free(ODF) status.
This will achieve the NDSP goal of increasing the number of person with access to safe sanitation, as well as reduction in disease prevalence in the rural communities.
“Dry Drum Pit Latrine is affordable, economical, eco-friendly and gender friendly. We are training people from 58 fishing ports and rural communities to equip them with skills for the construction of household latrines.
“We expect communities, stakeholders and householders to buy-into this option to create a sanitized environment.
“We also expect the Rivers State Rural Water and Sanitation Agency (RUWASA) to scale up the marketing of this option to other local government areas in the State in order to achieve the State’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of 2025.
“To sustain the gains recorded at the training, we shall embark on advocacy to the Council of Traditional Rulers and Faith-Based Organisations. In addition, participants should embark on supportive monitoring in their communities to maintain the pace of implementation towards the attainment of ODF status.”
Eventhough this model is new, its acceptance is quite high as we see in the success story already recorded in Bayelsa State as disclosed by the UNICEF WASH Consultant, Brass Local Government Area, Mr. John Aham Nwamuo.
Addressing the participants at Abonnema, Mr. Nwamuo said the Dry Pit Drum Latrine was piloted in Brass in October last year:
“We monitored the use and maintenance of the facility and shared the report with UNICEF Field Offices in Enugu and Rivers.
This led to the approval of the piloting across all the communities in two focal local government areas in each State in the Niger Delta.
“Already, 115 communities across three focal local government areas (Two in Bayelsa and One in Rivers) with five scale ups-one church and four households had benefitted. About 1,700 persons made up of 897 males and 803 females now practice safe excreta disposal.
“Three households across Brass and Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Areas have gone a step further to plant crops using degraded urine and excreta from their facilities.”
After listening to this success story, the enthusiastic trainees at Abonnema are rearing to go. In the words of Daketima Opuende from Luckyland Community:
“This innovation will help us not to fall sick any how. It will also help in our agriculture. I am confident that my community members will love it because I don’t forsee any opposition.
“I am fully prepared to make my people understand the numerous benefits of this latrine option as it relates to the environment and reduction of sicknesses.”
Another participant, Dabiri Igbikis, from Kula Community had this to say:
“I have a two-bedroom bungalow that I am building. I have been thinking of the high cost of construction of soak-away pit before this programme. From what I have learnt, I will have no option than to use the Dry Pit Drum Latrine because it will help me and my family.
“I will surely help to spread the good news in my community and I also pray that God should guide UNICEF and the organizers of this training to create more programmes that will benefit more persons in our society.”
Marketing this model the WASH Coordinator in Akuku-Toru, George Kaiserye, believes that if the participants buy-in and become ambassadors in their communities, the innovation will be a success story in the area.
However, health workers still foresee some challenges that are likely to work against the success of the project.
These include, land space, community buy-in, unit cost of each latrine and the number of people that use water for anal cleansing after using the toilet.
Besides, it has also been discovered that ignorance is driving some political office holders in the riverine communities to build pie latrines which is indirectly promoting open defecation. This is expensive and not safe for the environment.
This development calls for concerted efforts by government and various stakeholders to embrace this new initiative of Dry Pit Drum Latrine which is affordable and appropriate.
It is built with locally sourced materials and has agricultural potency to save our environment, keep us healthy as well as make us attain ODF Status.
The journey begins now. All well meaning citizens should stand up to be counted.
Nsirim writes from Port Harcourt.