05 September 2013

Toilet innovations - the Kiribati way!

By Karen Allen, UNICEF Pacific Representative

Improved latrine with ashes, cover, soap and water
© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Allen
We all do it, and some of us do it in the wrong place. In Kiribati, 40% of households defecate in the open and handwashing with clean water and soap is uncommon. Diarrheal deaths contribute significantly to the high under five mortality rate in Kiribati and morbidity from diarrhoea can compromise nutritional status and early childhood development. In my opinion, one of UNICEF's best programmes worldwide is Community Led Total Sanitation, which facilitates people to achieve a community environment free from open defecation, using local ideas, and appropriate technologies.

A staff member in UNICEF Kiribati told me, "I have lived and worked my whole life here on so many projects. But CLTS is like magic." The President of Kiribati must agree, because he has urged his Ministries to work closely with partners and communities so that the entire country achieves open defecation free status by the end of 2015.

As soon as the UNICEF car pulled into Buota Village, I exclaimed, "It is so clean!" Compared to the rest of Tarawa, Buota was like a tourist resort - but it is an ordinary village whose leaders and people have achieved something extraordinary. "Before CLTS meetings, said one of the leaders, the beaches and mangroves were full of people and animal faeces, the village had heaps of rubbish lying here and there. After CLTS meetings, people have stopped defecating on the beach and here and there. Every household has constructed their own toilet and I am proud to say my village is very clean." During the village presentation that I attended, several different leaders gave similar testimony, and also re-committed themselves to sustaining this. One newcomer to the village stood to talk; "I used to belong here, I went away and came back and everyone in my family was using the beach to defecate. But my neighbours showed me how to build a latrine from local materials and even helped me to do so. For this I am very grateful and happy to be living in a place that is so much cleaner than in town."

After listening, talking, eating and of course (it's the Pacific!) dancing, I walked around for a tour of -- you guessed it -- toilets! I must say, I have visited many CLTS villages in my life with UNICEF, but I do not think I have ever seen, in one village, so many local innovations. It is almost as though people are vying with each other to keep improving on the technique. I saw toilet seats from old tires, modern, recycled toilet seats resting on water or oil drums dug into the earth, concrete (salvaged from building demolition) seats. But the winner in my humble opinion is one using coconut tree planks, with the underground bole of the tree dug out to be the pit (so the earth won't collapse and the faeces are contained) and the planks used to raise the seat up and to carve the seat. Neat, clean and comfortable!

Buota village toilet builders are now well known in Kiribati through having their success broadcast on radio and through hosting visitors such as me. I am so proud of our WASH staff, who are clearly very well known and appreciated by the community members. Our WASH staff told me they have started taking people from Buota to other islands in Kiribati to teach about CLTS.

UNICEF Pacific and Government CLTS team for Kiribati
© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Allen

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