In a society where the health and safety of women are under constant threat, more toilets may help protect women.
During the evening gloom around Havana Informal Settlement on the outskirts of Windhoek, Selma Nghinamwaami knows all too well that when nature calls she must ignore it or risk her safety if she decides to step out of her corrugated shack to visit the nearest community toilet which she shares with 200 other residents.
Like Nghinamwaami, women around Havana have grown used to holding their bladders and bowels after sunset to ensure their own safety. After all, there are no street lights.
Instead of practically addressing the growing threat of communicable diseases such as Hepatitits, more attention was accorded to handshakes and PR exercises by health authorities when the disease reared its ugly head in recent months, leaving the vulnerable all by themselves.
Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus which is a small virus, with a positive-sense, single-stranded ribonucleic acid genome. The virus has four different types: genotypes 1, 2, 3 and 4 which can be found in both humans and animals. It is transmitted mainly through contaminated drinking water.
The disease is currently causing the health ministry sleepless nights, with official records indicating that 152 people were diagnosed with Hepatitis E between 14 December 2017 and 4 January 2018.
The infection is self-limiting and the incubation period is about 10 weeks. Sporadically acute liver failure develops and can lead to death.
A visit last week to Havana by The Patriot team exposed the sanitation shortcomings thousands of Namibians are subjected to, from newspapers-cum-toilet papers, broken toilets and fecal heaps is what residents in the area have become accustomed to.
“The ministry has done a good job to tell us about the threat but they are doing nothing to help the situation. How do you tell people that the cause of Hepatitis E stem from unhygienic grounds, but you have more than 200 people using one toilet? The toilets are there but many of them are locked as they are out of order,” said a concerned Nghinamwaami.
According to the enraged resident, she has been living in the settlement for four years and most of the toilets have been closed for the past two years. The toilets were built five years ago and ever since their closure, they have been forced to use one toilet.
“The drunkards that come to the nearby bars use this only toilet. When there is someone inside, some will just urinate on the wall. Children have nowhere to go when one toilet is closed so they just use grounds next to the toilet,” she said.
Under normal circumstances, the toilet allocation system allows a minimum of 10 houses per toilet.
Next to the dirty toilets is a prepaid tap where residents collect water for household use. This means that running water from the tap flows past the toilet dirt into or past nearby houses.
“You can imagine when it rains. You wake up to the smell of urine when the water flows past your house. The next morning you will see children playing in the standing water. This will not be the case if all the toilets in the area are opened.”
“We have spoken to the councilor and all he say is that they will help but they never come. The situation is getting out of hand and now that there is this disease outbreak, we live in fear.”
Attempts to get hold of the councilor Martin David were unsuccessful as his phone went unanswered after numerous calls.
Venaani lashes Govt
Government’s inability to effectively address the country’s sanitation afflictions has drawn an avalanche of stern criticism from the official opposition party which claims that failure to ensure proper sanitation to all Namibians infringes on the human rights of those affected.
This started to change, albeit slowly, on 19 November 2001 when World Toilet Day was established amid initial amusement and ridicule amongst those who lived in comfort. However, the day gathered support over the years in recognition of the crucial role that sanitation plays in community health. A resolution to this effect was adopted by 122 countries at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 24 July 2013 and so World Toilet Day, celebrated on 19 November, became an official UN day.
Poor services delivery has become such a bone of contention and dissatisfied poor communities protest regularly to draw attention to their plight with the hope of exerting pressure on local authorities to provide them with proper sanitation facilities. The challenge however, is the fact that local authorities do not have the financial capacity to address the sanitation affairs plaguing the populace.
Nearly all municipalities cannot provide sanitation to the overwhelming majority of their residents.
In 2016, The Patriot visited the Havana informal settlement on the outskirts of Windhoek to assess the severity of the lack of proper sanitation. Some residents at the settlement struggled without access to proper ablution facilities.
Considering the poverty conditions that exist, the provision of toilet paper was also said to be one of the issues that needs to be addressed, especially for women.
And while lawmakers are biting their nails on whether to or not to provide condoms to prisoners, which will cost millions, teenage girls in Havana are alleged to be using old clothes and toilet paper during their menstrual cycles, many have depended on good Samaritans for assistance. The debate on whether to provide free sanitary pads to school girls has not received as much prominence as that of providing condoms to inmates.
The Popular Democratic Movement this week described government’s inability to provide proper toilet facilities to the poor as an “epic failure”.
“It is an epic failure not to give people a decent toilet because it impacts on the dignity of the affected people. Government must make deliberate attempts to provide toilet facilities to our people,” said Venaani this week when he hosted the party’s maiden press briefing for the year.
Venaani, who lived briefly in one of the Windhoek’s informal settlements during his 2014 election campaign, said he experienced first-hand how people living in such setups continue to suffer.
In 2015, most countries in Africa had less than 50% coverage with basic handwashing facilities.
Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, goal 6 addresses ‘Clean Water and Sanitation, targeted to be achieved by the year 2020. According to the detailed aims of the goal, safe drinking water and hygienic toilets protect people from disease and enable societies to be more productive economically.
Attending school and work without disruption is critical to successful education and successful employment. Therefore, toilets in schools and work places are specifically mentioned as a target to measure. “Equitable sanitation” is called for and calls for addressing the specific needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations, such as the elderly or people with disabilities. Water sources are better preserved if open defecation is ended and sustainable sanitation systems are implemented.
The goals further adds that ending open defecation will require provision of toilets and sanitation for 2.6 billion people as well as behavior change of the users. This will require cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sector.
The main indicator for the sanitation target is the ‘Proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a hand-washing facility with soap and water’- something deprived of the Havana residents and many Namibians living in informal Namibia.
The current statistic in the 2017 baseline estimate by the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) is that 4.5 billion people currently do not have safely managed sanitation.