Last Friday, the State Minister for Environment, Dr Mary Gorret Kitutu Kimono, was in Namisindwa District to preside over a handover ceremony of Magale Market public toilet constructed by National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), among other sanitation facilities.
The vendors in Namisindwa Market had no toilet and were dumping waste in nearby bushes. On the same day, Ms Kitutu’s convoy proceeded to Manafwa District to commission a number of sanitation facilities, including clean water extensions worth billions of shillings.
Open defecation, where people go to fields, bushes, forests, ditches, streets, and canals, among others, is a common practice in some parts of the country. However, people resort to open defecation not out of choice, but because either they do not have readily accessible pit-latrins or due to cultural practices.
For instance, the media has recently reported that Mbarara and Kitgum districts, among others, are grappling with the challenges of open defecation, the health risks associated with the practice not withstanding.
According to the 2018 report by the Water and Sanitation Programme under Ministry of Health, the percentage of the population practising open defecation in urban areas stands at 12.6 per cent (970,227.342) out of the urban population of 7,700,217 people. District reports show that 8 per cent of the rural population, which is 2.47 million people, is still practising open defecation, down from 9 per cent reported in the financial year 2016/2017.
Nationally, a total number of the population without pit-latrine stands at 3.5 million people (2.47 million in rural areas and 970,227.342 in urban areas). Many Ugandan communities still practice open defecation in spite of the national pit-latrine coverage, which stands at 79 per cent.
According to Unicef, open defecation poses a serious threat to the health to especially children in Uganda. Additionally, it exposes women to several risks, including the danger of physical attack as well as encounters with snake bites.
Poor sanitation also cripples national development: Workers produce less, do not live, save and invest less, and are less able to send their children to school.
Awareness campaigns, media exposure, and pressure from school-going children are some of the measures that can be adopted to increase awareness and behaviourial change, especially among communities that practice open defecation as culture.
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