COMMUNITIES SEEK EMERGENCY SANITATION AFTER FLOODS

By Thokozani Chimbalanga, Field Coordinator
Additional reporting by Telephorus Chigwenembe, Communication & Learning Specialist

Ferocious floods that have hit fifteen of Malawi’s twenty eight districts have destroyed thousands of latrines in Phalombe and Chikhwawa where Global Sanitation Fund supported projects are being implemented, certainly a call for innovative programming to respond to the impact of the calamity that threatens to erode the sanitation and hygiene gains registered in the two districts so far.

From January this year, heavy and continuous rainfall has resulted in devastating floods that have destroyed property and claimed at-least 200 lives. Hundreds others remain unaccounted for. In some cases, the floods have swept away a whole village.

A recent impact assessment visit to Phalombe and Chikhwawa by Plan Malawi GSF team, the Country Programme Monitor and the Programme Coordinating Mechanism revealed the magnitude of the effect of the floods on sanitation in the districts, including the area of Traditional Authority Kaduya that had recently passed an open defecation free status test by the National ODF Task Force.

A total of 1,865 latrines in the area of Traditional Authority Lundu in Chikhwawa have collapsed due to the heavy rains and floods. In Kutulo, declared ODF in November 2014, 82 of the village’s 97 latrines have collapsed.

In Group Village Katalawo, Traditional Authority Chapananga, where a total of 70 out of 75 villages had been declared ODF, latrine coverage has dropped from 94% to 83.3% due to the collapsing of latrines, forcing people who once lived in an Open Defecation Free environment to revert to open defecation.

“Our family does not have a choice but defecate in the bush,” Noah Sande of Katalawo village told the GSF team that visited the area.

Health Surveillance Assistant responsible for the area, Olive Bewu, described the situation as regrettable. “People who had just been convinced to stop open defecation have now slipped back to the practice of OD. We struggled to make this village ODF and now we are back to where we started from,” lamented the health worker.

Bewu fears for the consequences of the calamity. “The people in my area are now at a big risk of contracting cholera and other diarrhea diseases because of the situation.”

ACTION

Meanwhile, GSF project implementing partner in Phalombe, Concern Universal, and the District Coordinating Mechanism are already on the ground, responding to the effects of the floods on the status of sanitation and hygiene.

Concern Universal and the District Coordinating Team are conducting campaigns to encouraged affected communities to remain steadfast in sanitation and hygiene practices, even while in their temporary shelters. This is not without its own challenges, though.

“We have a challenge. It is currently difficult for people to construct emergency latrines because of the high ground water levels in the flooded areas, hence making it difficult to dig new latrines,” said District Environmental Health Officer, Hollystone Kafanikhale.

The impact assessment team also established that in addition to challenge cited by the District Coordinating Team, some areas had been rendered hard to reach due to unfriendly roads, leaving some affected areas with little or minimal support.

The sanitation and hygiene campaigns have also been extended to centres where some affected people are camping to avert possible disease outbreaks, according to Kafanikhale.

Reports indicate that up to 22 thousand households in Phalombe are being accommodated in about 62 camps, most of which are schools. So far, about 56 schools in the district have been turned into camps. Some Community Based Child Care centers are also said to be housing some displaced households.

GLIMMER OF HOPE

Meanwhile, the impact assessment team led by the Malawi GSF Chief of Party Amsalu Negussie established that amidst the devastation caused by the floods, some community members in the affected areas are constructing temporary latrines.

“My latrine was swept away by the rains. I therefore decided to erect an emergency temporary facility because I did not want my kids and me to go back to the bush to relieve ourselves,” said Angella Juwawo, a mother of two from Kutulo village.

“I am now thinking that after the rains I should construct a latrine with a design that can survive the floods.”

The case of Angella Juwawo and many others including the village head who are constructing temporary latrines excited Malawi GSF Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist Mike Khoza who described the development as positive.

“This assures us that behavioural change among the beneficiaries of the programme has been crystallized as evidenced in some of the people’s unwillingness to resign to fate and go back to open defecation,” said Khoza who was part of the impact assessment team to the flood hit districts.

CALL FOR INNOVATION

Cases of flooding in districts such as Chikhwawa are recorded annually, a call to sanitation and hygiene players to strengthen programming related to the promotion of durable latrines to avoid this year’s mass loss of latrines.

Malawi GSF Sanitation and Hygiene Technical Specialist Twitty Munkhondia says there is need for strengthened resilience strategies. “The reported losses can be attributed to a combination of factors. However, one way of minimizing losses in future is the introduction of technologies that can help latrines withstand such harsh conditions as heavy rains,” said Munkhondia.

It is to be seen how sanitation players in Malawi, including the Global Sanitation Fund