I need to confess. In one month that I spent in Malawi I took more pictures of public toilets than of all the historical monuments in the world together that I have visited in my life. Obviously, I did get some apprehensive stares when people saw me entering a toilet with a camera and I was always afraid that I might run into someone when I try to open a half closed door. I also need to confess that now I can confidently contribute to the toilet conversations and talk about different designs etc with some vigor. To be honest, I never really had a conversation about toilets with my family or friends ever in my life as we never faced any serious toilet related problems. A comfortable/good enough toilet was always there when we needed. Once during the school’s scout camp we were expected to use a dry latrine, I decided to stealthy use the administrative toilet instead. No compromise on convenience.
Billions of people worldwide lack proper sanitation facilities
However, this one month in Malawi brought me face-to-face with reality of billions of people worldwide with no access to proper sanitation facilities.
I came across young girls who dropped out of school because there were no toilets in school. I also came across women working in the markets resorting to not using toilets the whole day because of the lack of privacy. I spoke to men who avoid drinking water lest they have to pee multiple times at an inconvenient place. I shudder when I think about them. There were also school kids who faced great health hazards because of the lack of means to clean themselves after the use of a toilet.
Just imagine people using latrines without water or toilet paper.
As a kind of „Toilet Tourist“ …
… I went to the darkest alleys and braved the toxic pungent smells. I discovered a toilet that required a lot of convincing from people to make me accept that it is indeed a toilet. But I was happy that it was not going to remain the same for too long. Most of these were project sites, thus new improved toilets were soon to be constructed. WARNING!!! May contain some disturbing images…
Needed: WASH for everyone – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
Welthungerhilfe, as the name suggest, is engaged in fighting hunger and poverty. However when I tell my friends about the portfolio of projects such as WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), healthcare and education run by Welthungerhilfe some eyebrows do get raised. What do these projects have to do with hunger and poverty? Let me try to answer. For a long time, basic needs of food, shelter and clothing were the real measurement of absolute poverty. Not anymore. Access to Sanitation, Healthcare and Education is an equally basic need in today’s world, without which a person can’t come out of the vicious cycle of poverty. And hunger doesn’t only mean enough to feed. If you are only taught to read and write a language in school can you call it education? What is education without other subjects such as Mathematics, Science, and History that empower you to think?
What is a world without hunger if there is no nutrition and health to sustain it?
„No toilet, no bride“
Let me come back to toilets. Policy makers and developing agencies have long struggled to encourage the use of toilets in many of the developing countries. Some people don’t build toilets because they don’t have money and some don’t use them out of habit. There have been campaigns such as “name and shame”, “no toilet no bride” with varied levels of success. In Malawi, Welthungerhilfe’s stress is on a sustainable model. As much as it is on building facilities, emphasis is also on training, innovation, technology, affordable pricing and behavior change. Take some examples.
- Pit toilets have a lifespan of 3-5 years depending on the depth of the pit.
- Once the pit is full one needs to abandon the toilet and build a new one. This has huge cost implications.
- In Malawi, there is a proposal to use a new desludging machine to clean the pits once it is full.
- There is also a proposal to combine two sub-parts of the project to build boreholes/water points near toilets in school so that total hygiene could be achieved.
All the places I lived in till now had a complex sewer system. But I realized it is not possible to build such systems in most places in the developing world because of the exorbitant costs. One needs to find very localized solutions for waste management.
I am no longer embarrassed to talk about toilets.
More importantly, I understand the importance of toilets in true development and a hunger free world. Next time you visit a clean toilet, feel lucky because for every you who is using a toilet there are one or two others somewhere who are not so privileged. I have been on a lot of wonderful excursions but my toilet tourism in Malawi was an experience I won’t forget.