Proper sanitation and hygiene, where is community’s collective responsibility?

By Admin

Adopting positive and working sustainable models lays squarely on each one’s shoulders, but can be implemented and enforced better by the community as a collective responsibility

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By Katherine Nabuzale

COMMUNITY WORK- Kampala is ranked one of the dirtiest cities in Africa, while neighboring Kigali is ranked the cleanest.  In fact, the rampant floods during the rainy season in Kampala are not because of Kampala’s geography, as Kigali has more hills and valleys compared to Kampala, so it is susceptible to flooding, as Kampala is! 

The current cholera outbreak in Kampala says a lot about our attitude towards hygiene behaviour and sanitation at individual and household level. A home isn’t a home without proper sanitation and waste disposal management.  Like it is said, charity begins at home, adopting positive and working sustainable models lays squarely on each one’s shoulders, but can be implemented and enforced better by the community as a collective responsibility.

By using the community approach towards cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, has achieved a clean, organised and litter-free environment. Indeed, the city’s roundabouts are very neat, and the grass so adroitly maintained that one can only marvel at this level of extra ordinary commitment and motivation. Incidentally, the propelling factor behind the cleanliness in Kigali has been largely achieved through the principle of Umuganda. The meaning of this word relates to community, translated as “coming together for a common” and dates back before Rwanda was part of Belgium’s African empire.

In the 19th century, a number of visitors recorded that Rwandans were required to work two days a week for their community leader and during Belgian rule Umuganda was encouraged as a way of bolstering civic responsibility. In the years before the 1994 genocide, President Juvénal Habyarimana emphasised it as part of his concept of “true” Rwandan identity. “True Rwandans” provided free labour for state-led projects like school building, road works, the construction of sanitation facilities and digging of anti-erosion ditches. 

Following the footsteps of his predecessor, President Paul Kagame has harnessed Umuganda to help clean up his capital, as well as to promote the idea of a cohesive national identity through communal projects. Umuganda has been formalised as a collective event happening every last Saturday of each month when everything else comes to a halt for three hours in the morning, and the city gathers to tidy up. This day is called umunsi w’umuganda (contribution made by the community) and all able-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 65 are required by law to participate. The knock-on effect of such conscientious cleaning up is, of course, that people are less inclined to litter in the first place.

Umuganda is evidence enough that having an organized society can be a lot much easier through community-led initiatives when correctly implemented. Another one of such initiatives to consider is the total sanitation approach.  It is an approach that has been tested and tried in Ghana, Bangladesh among others and found to be very effective in comparison to traditional sanitation programmes that provide some form of subsidy to individual families to reduce the cost of building a toilet.  

According to Muhammod Abdus Sabur, Community Eye health Journal, few large-scale sanitation programmes of this type have been successful. The reason for failure is that households which build toilets under such heavily-subsidised programmes feel less ownership for their facilities and are therefore less inclined to make any lasting improvements to their hygiene behaviour.

The community-led total sanitation approach recognises that sanitation is both a public and a private good, and that individual hygiene behaviour can affect the whole community. For instance, if your neighbours defecate in the open, then your children risk excreta-related diseases even when the members of your own household use a sanitary toilet, wash their hands, and practice good hygiene. In this sense, total sanitation refers to a total stop on open excretion and careless disposal of human waste which requires that everyone in the community either owns or has access to a toilet.

The approach is based on the postulation that the community has the strength and willingness to overcome their problems. It recognises that outsiders may be needed to help the community identify its problem and recognize the need for improvement but, the community must want to change. The level of individual involvement within the community is what leads to its success.

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Nonetheless, the community can only do so much!  The problem of poor sanitation and hygiene is multi-fold namely: - scarcity of clean and drinkable water, lack of education, inadequate urban planning compounded by the influx of migrations to the city and town. As part of the solution, better planning of urban dwellings to ensure compulsory availability of clean water and sanitation services is fundamental.

Provision of public toilet facilities- Government can ensure establishment of several public toilets as lack of them leads to inappropriate disposal of human waste which in turn spreads infections.

Put a ban on total manufacture and use of plastic bags-Taking the example of Rwanda, the ban on plastic production has drastically reduced plastic pollution, one of the biggest challenges for Africa. 

Education- Education status of the society must be improved. Introducing cleanliness and hygiene lessons at the grassroots say, in primary schools coupled with frequent, massive sensitization and awareness campaigns on different diseases and sanitation problems will lead to informed decision making as well as, better hygiene practices. 

President Paul Kagame said: “Kigali does not need international aid to keep its backyards clean.”  This is the right attitude for any positive change in society. The practice of proper hygiene and sanitation has nothing to do with funds, it’s an attitude problem exacerbated by dysfunctional leadership and organisation.