Open Defecation: A Sign Of Extreme Poverty

By Mohamed Juma Jalloh

The emptying of solid waste, from the bowels, is generally considered as an extremely private affair by human civilization. An individual, desperately on the verge of answering to nature`s call, is perturbed until the unwanted burden is offloaded.

Depending on the speed, at which the digestive system grinds the intake of food, some people can attend to a lavatory more than once in twenty four hours.  An activity that is supposed to be one of the most private affairs of human beings is at present performed in the open. This is a subject matter that receives the least attention in the media because of the squeamishness attached to excreta discussions.

The apparent lack of a lavatory, in many households across Freetown, is a recipe for health pandemics. According to UNDP statistics, about 70% of the country`s population are without access to safe toilet facility. It is also believed that 27% of the population used shared latrines, whiles 28% practice open defection.

It is not uncommon for people to answer to nature’s call in running streams, whiles, at the same time, using the filthy running water for cleaning up. The Alligator and George Book Rivers, that flow across the Freetown peninsula on to the Kroo Bay, are busy lavatory centres for many people during the day and night.

These rivers navigate in a narrow course during the dry season into the Brookfields community, but toilet goers appreciate the fact that the streams never dry up even in the midst of the dry season. Some family heads are shamelessly emboldened to line up with their children to defecate on the rivers. A young man, who goes by the name of Boika, is a Savage Street resident who lives in close proximity to the Alligator River.

“There is a flush toilet available at home, but the lack of running tap water prevents me from utilizing it,” he said.

It is no gainsaying that water and sanitation are inextricably linked; some homes have a latrine or a flush toilet but the lack of water forces residents to defecate in the running streams.

Borne out of bad habits, some people deliberately excrete on the edge of the rivers, instead of dropping the waste on the water for onward transportation into the Atlantic Ocean. By leaving human excreta, on the edge of streams, it serves as food for flies, rodents and cockroaches, which are notorious transmitters of contagious diseases. Until the toilet decomposes or washed away by the rains, food and water, in close proximity, stand at risk of being infested with germs and bacteria.

The consumption of such food and water, by any human being, could lead to contracting diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and Ebola. Lack of access to safe toilet and poor sewage management are serious problems that caused a cholera outbreak in 2012. The epidemic led to the deaths of almost 400 people, with the capital city of Freetown recording more than 80% of the total cases.

Improper management of sewage is a major concern in the capital city. Alex Blanshard is also a resident of Savage Street. His backyard stands adjacent to the Alligator River. “Apart from the unpleasant sight of people defecating in the open, it is also a bad practice to empty giant rubber stools, filled with human excreta, over the course of the night on the river,” Mr. Blanshard deplored.

A lot of residents, living in the Brookfields community, have outdoor latrines. For safety reasons, some residents are too frightened to use the latrines at night for fear of encountering armed robbers or pedophiles. The only protective solution is to defecate on gigantic rubber containers, to be emptied during the early hours of the morning in the streams.

Even among households with improved toilet, the proper disposal of child feces is a major challenge. Safe disposal of children feces is as essential to a healthy environment as the safe disposal of adult feces. The unsightly view of children, engaging in open defecation, could also serve as a breeding ground for epidemics. For the preservation of a healthy environment, that is free from diseases, parents must discourage such poor sanitation practices.

About a month ago, a young auto mechanic`s life was cut short when the Savage Street Bridge collapsed. The man left his garage, at the back of the APC Party headquarters, to use the running stream under the bridge as a rest room. Coincidentally, the fitter was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bridge collapsed and was eventually buried in the rubble.

Public toilets are few and far flung in the Brookfields community. The availability of public toilets, in and around the community, could have saved the life of the young auto mechanic. An individual, who is deeply pressed to emptying the bowels, would like to access the nearest sanitation facility.

The situation is far more pathetic to women and girls, who don’t have access to a decent toilet, more so when they are in their periods. The unacceptable situation means that it could be very hard to deal with menstruation in a dignified manner. Girls can be in danger if there are no private decent toilets. By using the streams, they could risk sexual attacks from onlookers.

The Freetown City Council (FCC) is the institution charged with the mandate of providing public toilets, but it is largely under resourced to be able to provide the services. According to Sorie Kamara, who is the Environmental Officer at the FCC, the Council is unable to undertake projects that require resources because the institution is largely underfunded.

“With the support of the central government and development partners a lot of public toilets can be constructed to serve residents in the Freetown Municipality,” Mr. Kamara stated.

In fact, the FCC is unable to prevent a pool of raw sewage from settling at the recently constructed King Jimmy Bridge. Every now and then, toilet could be seen oozing out from a pipe connected to a public toilet underneath the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). Sometimes the sewage overflows on to the street, creating an unbearable stench hanging on the air.

The public toilet, at the Stadium Carwash (Blackstreet), can boast of sufficient water availability. However, the other public toilets, located at both ends of the Congo Market in the Brookfields community, are normally engulfed in stench due to inadequate water and lack of fumigation.

With the support of DFID and UNICEF, a considerable number of public toilets were constructed to alleviate the scourge of lack of lavatories. Emptying of sewage is also a major challenge for residents that have latrines. In some instances, manual labour is hired to do the job, instead of approaching the appropriate health authorities.

There is a major land filled site in Kingtom (Bomeh) in the west end of Freetown, where there is no base or tap seal to prevent the flow of leachates to underground water or rivers or the infiltration of water into the waste.

In Kingtom, leachates seeps into the White Man`s Bay, where it mixes with discharge of raw sewage effluent from sludge drying ponds on the same site. This can ultimately result in the spread of contagious and water borne diseases.

In the absence of appropriate sewage networks, residents and institutions rely on on-site facilities, such as pit toilets and septic tanks. When full, these must be emptied or new facilities constructed. The service for pit-tank emptying is relatively unregulated and poses considerable risk to workers and the general public.

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