Informal settlers tackle waste

Towards an end to open defecation

25 September 2020 | Local News

JANA-MARI SMITH

WINDHOEK



With an estimated 61 tonnes of human faeces plus household trash dumped in Windhoek's informal settlement open areas every day, the community on Saturday took part in a clean-up campaign to restore dignity, health and safety to their lives.

The clean-up is the first of a series of cleaning events planned for the Samora Machel and Moses //Garoeb constituencies in aid of their aim to become open defecation free zones (ODF) and to improve solid waste removal systems.

Open defecation remains a significant problem countrywide, with an estimated 50% of informal settlement residents living without toilets.

Informal areas are battered by a lack of basic services many Namibians take for granted, such as piped water, toilets, electricity and rubbish removal. These conditions have spurred on a three-year hepatitis E epidemic that has sickened thousands around the country and killed dozens in informal settlements.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for sanitation as a crucial means to end the spread of disease.

Calculations shared by the Development Workshop of Namibia (DWN) indicate that at least 84 000 urban households around the country are without access to toilets. Based on average household members, this indicates that around 287 300 urban Namibians use riverbeds or open green spaces to defecate.

That amounts to an estimated 143 tonnes of human faeces deposited in open areas of Namibia daily.

In the Khomas Region, an estimated 122 200 residents do not have toilets. They are estimated to deposit around 61 tonnes of faeces in riverbeds and other open areas every day, and 21 960 tonnes, or 21 million kilograms, annually in and around Windhoek. Open area defecation poses not only health but also environmental risks to residents and underground water systems. Moreover, it puts vulnerable residents at risk of crime and impedes personal dignity.

In addition, incalculable amounts of household garbage are dumped in the open where refuse removal services are scarce and erratic.



Dangerous

“We live in very dangerous conditions in informal settlements,” Berthold Haingura, a Samora Machel constituency coordinator said on Saturday during the clean-up campaign.

“The main challenge we face here is the lack of services. Most of the people who live here practice open defecation. This is a hazard to human health. And we also face the challenge of no water, no electricity and high rates of crime.” He and other community leaders teamed up with the DWN and partners to implement a community-led sanitation (CLTS) programme last year, which is an approach that sensitises residents about the health dangers associated with open defecation and provides low-cost sanitation solutions to apply in communities.

Haingura said although it has “not always been easy” to work towards improved conditions in their areas, including working with the City of Windhoek, “we are really pushing to improve the lives of residents. We hope that in days to come we will achieve our goals.”

Ultimately, he says, the community wants to live in formal conditions, with access to basic services and an overall safer and healthier environment. “We hope with these interventions with those assisting us, we will obtain the status that will save the communities in the informal settlements.”

On Saturday, thousands of residents were ready to start work at 06:00, including young children, elders, women and men.

“The volunteers on the ground are so committed. They are a dedicated team,” he said.

DWN and donors ensured that the community was armed with thousands of rubbish bags, which ran out quicker than anticipated.

Their willingness to spend the day wading into dirty, and often dangerous areas signals their hope for a better life, Haingura stressed.

“Because at the end of the day, we want to achieve defecation-free areas. We want everyone to have a toilet, and people not using riverbeds. We would like to see ourselves also live with lights, electricity, in a formal and safe environment.”



Take charge

“We encourage community members and leaders to be in charge and at the forefront of their sanitation situation. As a CLTS member we educate on general hygiene, waste management, hepatitis-E and how to prevent it,” Gotlieb Sheya Thimo of the DWN said on Saturday.

The DWN is currently implementing three main programmes countrywide, including a land for housing project, the sanitation and Covid-19 emergency response projects in the informal settlements and an early childhood development programme.

The organisation, together with community volunteers, has installed more than 48 000 tippy-tap hand-washing devices in informal settlements since March this year in response to the pandemic.

Thimo said Saturday's clean-up campaign was the first of a planned series as part of the organisations' drive to ensure the community takes the lead to improve sanitation in their areas.

“It takes a collective community to take up the responsibility to manage their waste. So, if every individual in this area does not dump waste in the riverbed, and puts it at the identified waste hotspots, then it can create an efficient system. But the system only runs if it is collectively implemented, by the city and the people.”