Where the bush is a toilet

Friday August 23 2013

A man easing himself in the bushes.Photo by

A man easing himself in the bushes.Photo by Veronica Kagona 

By Veronica Kagona

In Buyende, one of the newest districts located to the north of Busoga sub-region near Lake Kyoga, sits a village which uses a bush as a toilet. According to a Unicef survey, about 50 per cent of the rural population in Uganda has no toilets and is therefore using the bush.

An area with about 19,033 residents according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Bukungu has Lake Kyoga as its only source of drinking water and one toilet for all the residents of the island. To make it worse, this toilet is full and therefore, the only solution is to revert to the bush commonly referred to as, Akabira.

“Most homes in the district, especially Bukungu village have no toilets. In Kyoga A, six out of 10 households there did not have toilets. People living in this areas use bush toilets there by exposing communities to water-borne diseases,” said Mr Ismaer Kayanja, the area LC1 Chairman.

A recent visit to this remote area showed a few households with toilets; however, the few low-depth latrines there, are either filled up or not functional at all. And with such a scenario, it is common to see people relieving themselves in the bush.
In some instances, little children below the age of five are seen spending most of their time playing in the shallow dry river bed which is faecal polluted.

The Buyende District chairman, Michael Kanaku, admits that this area had no toilet and that people have problems accessing clean and safe drinking water.
On that note, Water Mission Uganda, along with the local government recently launched the Bukungu Safe Water Project mainly meant to address water issues in this area.

“We were facing difficulties in accessing clean water, especially when the few boreholes dried up. But thanks to Water Mission, we have some units set up. Right now the serious challenge we are facing is lack of toilets in this area. It being close to the lake, the district health team has found it very difficult to dig a pit. The deepest you can go is five feet; this cannot accommodate the number of residents on this island. The other area on the hill is so rocky that we can’t dig a pit. At the moment we are restless with the situation. We need toilets urgently if the health of these residents is to be taken serious.

“Much as the residents have not experienced any outbreak as yet, it’s certain that soon or later an outbreak is bound to happen. For instance the bush is on a hilly area and when it rains, all the faecal matter is deposed in the nearby Lake Kyoga which acts as a water source for all the residents,” Kanaku said.
Sarah Onguzu 38, a mother of six is among the villagers who are living without toilets.

“We are finding it difficult to do without toilets especially us women. We can’t afford to build our own toilets. We used to have a makeshift toilet but it filled up. So we are back to using the bush,” she said.

Toilet coverage
In Buyende, records show that there were about 80 public toilets in 2011 compared to the 10 that existed before it became a district.
The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2011 Report shows that 16 per cent of households in Uganda use improved toilet facilities that are not shared with other households (15 per cent in rural areas). Overall, 19 per cent of households have improved facilities but shared them (11 per cent in rural areas). However, none of this is true in Bukungu village.

Two in three households use non-improved toilet facilities (73 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas). The most common type of toilet in urban areas is a pit latrine with a slab (34 per cent), while in rural areas it is a pit-latrine without a slab (62 per cent) and the latter is very common in the already used up toilets in Bukungu,” the survey reveals.

Health implications
According to health experts, poor toilet practices result in the spread of preventable diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery and worm infestation. These usually break out as a result of poor disposal of excreta.
According to the September 2011 Water and Environment Sector Performance Report, emphasis should not be only on construction of latrines, but also hand washing to improve sanitation. In urban areas, the report notes that access to hand washing facilities was at 30 per cent (excluding Kampala which has no data).

Health education and bylaws
Kanaku says there is need for health education to sensitise communities about proper disposal of faecal waste and to prevent disease outbreaks.

“For the occupants of the Rocky Kyoga A where toilets cannot be dug, people should always move to areas like Lufula zone where the toilets are many,” he advises.
He also notes that in order to help the people of Kyoga A, local leaders should ensure that their residents move to the toilets. This can be implemented by drafting and enforcing bylaws regarding waste disposal.

Under the decentralisation policy, every local government is supposed to make its own sanitation ordinances and bylaws which have to be approved by the council and checked by the solicitor general to ensure consistency with other laws. Political leaders should implement these bylaws to ensure effective toilet coverage countrywide

What is the way forward?
Kanaku advises that for now, they will have to use the eco-san system toilet. “As district leaders, we are looking at an option of attaining the eco-san system toilets. As a district, this will be very expensive but to solve this problem in such an area where pits cannot be dug, this is the only solution we have to go with.