Pewama village in the Kenema District was recently officially counted as Sierra Leone’s 1,000th community to be declared “Open Defecation Free” (ODF). This means that each household now has access to their own latrines, hand washing facilities and other hygiene interventions without relying on financial and logistical support from government and development agencies.
The latrines are being built by villagers using locally produced materials such as mud bricks and Palm Fronds under the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme.
CLTS is a new approach to sanitation whereby communities are educated on the harmful effects of defecating in the open and as a result of the newly gained knowledge decided to build their own latrines to reduce diarrhoea and cholera.
The project started in Sierra Leone in 2008 due to the fact that the granting of subsidies for the construction of latrines was ineffective as many households failed to adequately improve their hygiene and sanitation behaviour.
Approximately 75% of the country’s under-5 mortality rate is thought to be caused by poor sanitation and hygiene and just 13% of Sierra Leoneans have access to adequate sanitation facilities.
The high prevalence of diarrhoea and other infectious diseases amongst the under-5s only helps to highlight the severity of the situation. The need for an alternative solution was therefore imperative.
Originally CLTS was pioneered by the country’s NGOs, but it has now been placed firmly in the hands of “natural leaders”, that is, people who champion sanitation activities within their communities by spreading messages on improved hygiene and sanitation to other neighbouring communities. Due to their hard work and dedication, CLTS has now spread to almost every rural area in the country.
“This is an important sanitation milestone which has pulled massive support from the government, Local Councils and communities as we race towards meeting some of the benchmarks of the MDGs”, said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. “Such innovations have significantly contributed towards improving the sanitation profiles of communities and reduce incidents of under-5 mortality as a result of diarrhoea”.
Sierra Leone is the first country in Africa to have achieved this level of sanitation coverage in such a short time and it is hoped that this level of success will be an inspiration to other African countries struggling to improve rural access to sanitation facilities.
“The underlying factors for the success of this initiative has largely been due to the dedication of the Government in the Free Health Care policy for pregnant women, children under the age of five and pregnant and lactating mothers and the cooperation and collaboration between the Government, UNICEF and NGO partners at pushing forward the CLTS agenda at the national and District levels”, said Hon Mrs. Zainab Bangura, Minister of Health and Sanitation. “As a result, we are now accelerating our efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals target of improved sanitation facilities by 2015” she added.