Girls, women and children are enduring a life of open defecation in Nkhata Bay District due to lack of toilets.
A 14-year-old girl, whom we shall call Mercy because she refused to be named, says girls in her area are leading a stressful life because almost all households in her area of Group Village Head (GVH) Kakhongwe in Traditional Authority (TA) Mankhambira do not have toilets.
“People defecate openly here,” she says.
“When I’m pressed, I just go to the lake to ease myself as it is only 150 meters away from our house. I pretend to swim when actually I’m relieving myself,” Mercy explains.
“Mostly when we go to the lake, everybody knows that we are going to ease ourselves which is not health to us girls. It is difficult for us to cope with the situation.”
She adds that at night, people just walk a few meters behind their houses and dig holes to relieve themselves.
“We are really scared when we go to the bush to ease ourselves because we are afraid that men will sexually harass us. We are suffering a lot as girls; not only physically but also psychologically.
“It is my appeal to duty bearers to provide support so that we can have decent toilets that will be user friendly by women and girls,” Mercy says.
At Ruarwe, nine-year-old Peter Msuku says if he wants to relieve himself, he goes to his grandparent’s house; it is a torturous walk through 15 houses to get to the toilet.
“All the 15 houses do not have toilets,” Msuku says.
He explains that his grandparents’ toilet looks more of a makeshift spot made up of grass-thatched walls and floored with clay soil. It has no rooftop, no drop-hole cover and no hand washing facility.
“When the toilet is engaged, I just go behind a nearby big rock. Or sometimes I just go to the beach and dig a hole with my hands and ease myself. After that, I cover the area with sand,” Msuku says.
GVH Kakhongwe of TA Mankhambira acknowledges lack of toilets in his area.
“My area is along the lakeshore and the area is sandy. When people construct toilets, they collapse after a short period.
“It is easy for the residents to defecate in bushes and in lakes rather than in toilets since it feels easy for them to do so,” GVH Kakhongwe says.
To this effect, he says there is need for people to be provided with cement and bricks to construct permanent toilets and stop defecating openly.
According to Nkhata Bay District Monitoring and Evaluation water, sanitation and health data base for June 2017, total latrine coverage is at 64 percent, and improved latrine coverage is at eight percent while traditional latrine coverage is at 55 percent.
Nkhata Bay District Health Promotion Officer Christopher Singini says his office has embarked on sensitization campaign on the importance of having toilets and using them properly to avoid cholera.
“Prevention is better than cure. People need to change their behavior and start practicing good sanitation and hygiene to combat cholera,” he says.
District Water Officer Alex Mwanjasi Mwakikunga bemoans that despite many sanitation projects, Nkhata Bay is failing to achieve an Open Defecation Free (ODF) status.
“We have had Community Led Total Sanitation Project before but we have never declared Open Defecation Free,” Mwakikunga says.
Meanwhile, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) is fighting open defecation in the area of TA Malenga Mzoma.
CPAR’s Nkhata Bay District WASH Coordinator Rodney Rajab says the organization has won the fight in the area.
“We can now boast that we have achieved what we came here for. Malenga Mzoma is now Open Defecation Free and what is remaining is for the National Open Defecation Free Task Force (NOTF) to come and verify and declare it ODF,” Rajab says.
Rajab further says apart from triggering and verifying exercises, the organization is going to construct toilets and provide hand washing facilities in schools.
“We are going to construct 10 toilets at Community Based Child Centers, provide 10 buckets to 10 primary schools and train 30 front line workers on sanitation issues,” he says.
From December 2015 to early 2016, the district registered 50 cases of cholera and all were from the area of GVH Kakhongwe.
As there is no end in sight for open defecation, eliminating waterborne diseases remains a hard and long battle. In this rainy season, the district has already registered 11 cases of cholera mostly along the lakeshore in the area of Senior Chief Mkumbira.