Nowhere to go – School Toilets

By Hiwot Ghiday and Raymond Kennedy

EAST BADEWACHO, SOUTHERN NATIONS, NATIONALITIES AND PEOPLE’S (SNNP) REGION, 13 February 2017 – Langano Primary School is located in the southern Ethiopian countryside around 17 km east of Shone town and has been open since [2004]. Until 2016, this bustling school of over 1,300 students had only one traditional latrine – shared by boys and girls alike.

Habtamu Pawlos
Habtamu Pawlos, 13-years-old, in front of the new boys’ latrine. ©UNICEF/2017/Ghiday

Habtamu Pawlos is 13-years-old and currently studying in grade eight – the highest level offered by Langano School. He explains, “Previously there was only one latrine at our school and since the number of students are many it was difficult to access when needed.” He thanks the donor for providing a block of four new latrines for each gender, complete with a handwashing facility and says it has solved the problem.

Habtamu is being gracious – while he knows that four boys’ toilets is an improvement on what they had before – it is still not many to share between over 700 male students at the school.

When there are not enough toilets to go around – it is not surprising that children resort to unsanitary practices. Estimates are that only 42 per cent of primary schools in the SNNP region are free from open defecation[1].

The lack of toilets in Langano Primary School caused particular problems for girls.

“Most of the time, the boys go first and we have to go back to class before we get to use the toilet,” Tsehay Moges, a 12-year-old girl who recently entered grade five explains. “Privacy was also a problem.”

Tsehay admits that the lack of toilets made it difficult for her to attend class and concentrate on her studies. She says students sometimes became sick from infections due to lack of access to proper toilets.

A recent UNICEF study found that over a quarter of girls surveyed missed school during their periods[2]. One key reason for this was the lack of private spaces to change their sanitary materials and clean properly. In many cases, girls told us that they would be teased or harassed by boys if they knew they were experiencing menses.

Private, separate toilets for girls will help Tsehay and her female classmates manage their periods with more dignity and will help reduce the number of girls absent from school.

latrine school
The previous one-stall latrine. ©UNICEF/2017/Ghiday

The contrast between the new latrine blocks and the old unimproved latrine is stark.

Shared by both boys and girls, this latrine provided little privacy and was very dirty. The uncovered latrine hole attracted swarms of flies which buzzed around the user, contributing to the spread of diseases including trachoma, which can cause blindness. Additionally, there was also no handwashing facility for the children to use. Traditional latrines may also easily collapse when it rains as they are built out of mud and sticks. This is a danger to users and also exposes the community to open defecation until they are replaced.

Through generous funding from SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, UNICEF is supporting the regional government in the SNNP region to ensure that school children can use safe, improved latrines with handwashing stations. This project is supporting 10 schools in total, and new toilets have been installed in six of them thus far.

While the population of students and teachers at Langano Primary School are fortunate to have a better sanitary environment, there is still work to be done elsewhere in Ethiopia. Even though has been significant progress in reducing open defecation, far too many children are using unsafe and unsanitary latrines – particularly in rural areas. The current coverage of improved latrines is estimated to be less than per cent in rural areas of Ethiopia[3]. There is a long way to go before all children in Ethiopia have proper access to safe and clean toilets at school.

[1] One WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) National Programme Draft Report 2016

[2] Menstrual Hygiene Management, Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Baseline Survey, 2017; Afar, Gambella, Oromia and SNNP regions of Ethiopia.

[3] Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey 2016

Lack of toilets dangerous for everyone, UNICEF says

Girls' toilet at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State
Girls’ toilet at Beseka ABE Center in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

NEW YORK/Addis Ababa, 19 November 2014 – Slow progress on sanitation and the entrenched practice of open defecation among millions around the world continue to put children and their communities at risk, UNICEF warned on World Toilet Day.

Some 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have adequate toilets and among them 1 billion defecate in the open – in fields, bushes, or bodies of water – putting them, and especially children, in danger of deadly faecal-oral diseases like diarrhoea.

In 2013 more than 340,000 children under five died from diarrhoeal diseases due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene – an average of almost 1,000 deaths per day.

“Lack of sanitation is a reliable marker of how the poorest in a country are faring,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “But although it is the poor who overwhelmingly do not have toilets, everyone suffers from the contaminating effects of open defecation, so everyone should have a sense of urgency about addressing this problem.”

The call to end the practice of open defecation is being made with growing insistence as the links with childhood stunting become clearer. India, with 597 million (half the population) practising open defecation, also has high levels of stunting. Last week, UNICEF convened a conference in New Delhi called ‘Stop Stunting’ to call attention to the effect of open defecation on the entire population, particularly children. UNICEF’s ‘Take Poo to the Loo’ campaign in India also works to raise awareness of the dangers associated with open defecation.

Asfaw Legesse a model in his community washes his hand after using a latrine.
Asfaw Legesse a model in his community washes his hand after using a latrine. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

“The challenge of open defecation is one of both equity and dignity, and very often of safety as well, particularly for women and girls,” Wijesekera noted. “They have to wait until dark to relieve themselves, putting them in danger of attack, and worse, as we have seen recently.”

Compared to other African countries, Ethiopia has made huge progress in reducing open defecation rates from 92 per cent in 1990 to 37 per cent in 2012. The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) 2014 report from UNICEF/WHO confirms that Ethiopia is leading the charge in Africa in reducing open defecation.The community total sanitation and hygiene approach, supported by UNICEF and utilizing the 38,000 Health Extension Workers in the country, has greatly contributed to this success.

“The challenge of improving sanitation levels to ensure that the minimum standards of toilet construction remains in many rural areas across Ethiopia. With the rapid urbanisation of the country there is also a need to “reinvent the toilet” to make it affordable, durable and appropriate for high density urban dwellings. UNICEF is advocating for these, and greater focus on toilets in schools and health centres nationwide, to ensure greater access to improved sanitation,” said Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting Representative of UNICEF Ethiopia.

UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation addresses the problem at the local level by involving communities in devising solutions, and has led to some 26 million people across more than 50 countries abandoning the practice of open defecation since 2008.

Eighty-two per cent of the 1 billion people practising open defecation live in just 10 countries: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, Nepal, China, and Mozambique. The numbers of people practising open defecation are still rising in 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, though they have declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. In Nigeria, numbers of open defecators increased from 23 million in 1990 to 39 million in 2012.

Globally, some 1.9 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990. However, progress has not kept up with population growth and the Millennium Development Goal target on sanitation is unlikely to be reached by 2015 at current rates of progress.

The inter-governmental Open Working Group on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals have recommended that the new goals include a target of achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation by 2030.