Eliminating the culture of open defecation in Karamoja

Tuesday January 5 2016

Tina Akello, a Primary Two pupil, uses the

Tina Akello, a Primary Two pupil, uses the tippy-tap to wash her hands. Tippy-taps are majorly made by children who learn the skill from school. Photo by Beatrice Nakibuuka 

By Beatrice Nakibuuka

Who would believe that one can walk for more than a kilometre at night to find a place for a long call in an open defecation in districts such as Nakapiripiriti? “There is a rock one kilometre away from here where adults go to answer nature’s call but the children dig into the ground and bury the faeces afterwards,” says Maria Nakut, a resident of Nabilatuk village, Nakapiripiriti District.

In Uganda, there has been a steady increase in populations having access to water and improved standards of sanitation and hygiene.
However, there are districts that have consistently under-performed in their sanitation and hygiene, according to The Uganda Water and Environment Sector Performance Report 2014/2015.
The Ministry of Water and Sanitation pointed to the districts of Napak, Kaabong, Moroto, Kotido and Nakapiripiriti as societies practicing open defecation because of lack of toilets.

According to Wilfred Okello, the water and sanitation specialist, Karamoja sub-region, out of 128 villages in Napak District, only four have latrines. In Kaabong, out of 287 villahges only has six have toilets. For the case of Kotido, there are 187 villages and of these only two have pit-latrines.
Nakapiripiriti, on the other hand, has only one village that has latrines.

The triggered village
Residents of Natir Village, Kacheri Sub-county, Kotido District are responding to the intervention of building latrines. The village has 143 households with 69 latrines constructed since September 2015.
Alakar Martina, a mother of five says, “When you take a child to school, they must learn and are expected to put into practice what they have learnt. We also adopted this after the officials taught us and we see there is a great improvement in our general health. Initially, I did not know why I had to construct a latrine but now I feel ashamed when I see faeces around my home.”
She adds, “We did not dream of having a sanitary facility but now that we have them, we shall maintain them although food and water scarcity are still big challenges for us.”

Longaroi, the model village
Felix Achunge, the sanitation and hygiene manager Concern Worldwide, says, “Out of the 64 villages that we targeted and taught good sanitation practices in Nakapiripiriti, only one has adopted the culture after nine months and we are soon declaring it open defecation free.” Longaroi village in Kosike parish in Nakapiripiriti District is almost at the take-off stage.

Had it not been for food scarcity, limited health facilities and low education level, this village would be counted as one of developed ones.
The impact of lead mothers and male change agents in Longaroi village can greatly be felt with the way they teach fellow residents the importance of good hygiene and sanitation, good mother care, having kitchen gardens as well as sending children to school.

Aisu Mariko, a male change agent in the village says, “We and our children used to fall sick all the time. We got trainers last year who came and taught us the importance of proper hygiene and why we should have latrines. Since that time we adopted the idea of living in a clean environment, we live in healthy and happy families. We do not fall sick frequently like we used to.”
In this village, every household has a pit-latrine, a tippy-tap where they wash hands after using the latrines, a drying rack for utensils but all have empty granaries because of the drought that hit the region.

Nabilatuk, the failed village
In September 2014, Concern Worldwide, after realising that water, sanitation and hygiene would hinder the success of the agriculture, animal production and health projects that had been started in Nabilatuk, one of the villages in Nakapiripiriti, the organisation started campaigns to teach locals the importance of having latrines.
Most of the children have not gone to school so they do not know about the dangers of open defecation.
One of the reasons why the people still defecate in the open is due to culture where they believe it is bad to mix faecal content with in-laws and that pregnant women will miscarry when they use pit-latrines.

Others complain of rain and termites that destroy the pit-latrines while others are afraid of the snakes that are so many in the area.
Natuk says, “There is only one latrine that is serving 17 households. We usually have to wait because we are so many people using the same latrine and if you are badly off, you go to the nearby bush. We have been told that this is a bad practice but there are so many snakes here so sometimes they stop us from using the latrines.”

Ngiro Apalokapel, the chairman of Losmit village, says he is an example to his people. He teaches the people how to build the latrines but not everyone in his village has a latrine because they do not have equipment to help them dig into the rocky ground.

“It makes me feel bad when I hear people say Karamoja is an open defecation area, yet it is hard to force people to build toilets because there is no bylaw stopping them from defecating in the bush, Apalokapel says. “They have so many complaints like snakes, termites and rain that destroy their latrines and the hard rocky ground.”
Phillip Siloi, the district health inspector, says the cholera outbreak in the region in 2010 caused panic and several policies, including involving police to force residents to build toilets were instituted since that time but they have still failed.

“We develop a list of people without latrines and have a shame walk around the villages so that those without them get ashamed and build themselves one. We do police arrests and sometimes hide in the bushes where they defecate.
When we get a culprit, we make him remove the faeces and insist that he builds his own latrine but they refuse,” says Siloi.
He adds: “We monitor the use of these toilets because some residents have them but do not use them because some still cling to culture yet others do not know how to use them.”

Some residents excuse themselves for not having toilets because of food scarcity. To them, sanitation is second priority after food. The people who are strong go and look for food and those who stay are the children and the elderly who cannot do much.
“It is hard to find food here. Looking for food is the first priority. The hygiene and sanitation come later. How do you expect me to have a pit-latrine when I have no food to eat?” Ejuma Phillip, one of the residents wondered.