Home Features & Analysis Changing lives one toilet at a time

Changing lives one toilet at a time

by Lesotho Times
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toiletPascalinah Kabi

He is frail and coughing incessantly, but 61-year-old Katse Mok’hena smiles broadly as he is told his Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) toilet is now complete and ready for use.

The facility is part of government’s Water and Sanitation Programme and one of many being built for Ha Lebopo villagers. The government is also providing the community with water taps under the programme.

“I used to work in the South African mines a long time ago and built a toilet for my family over 20 years ago. But the pit is now almost full and becoming almost impossible to use because it’s now too smelly and sitting inside it even for a minute is now a struggle. I could not build another toilet because of lack of funds as my priority is now providing food for my family,” Mr Mok’hena says.

“At times I ask my visitors to use my neighbours’ toilets as it is now embarrassing to offer them such a latrine. That’s why I am happy with this new toilet and can’t wait for my family of four to start using it after it is officially handed over to us.

“Like I said, the situation had become desperate and I now feared a disease outbreak due to its filthy state. I particularly feared for my young son because children are not the most careful lot when using the toilet.

“I don’t know who is building these toilets and installing taps for us but I am happy. I just know a contactor from Maseru called Maphathe is building these toilets and installing the taps for the whole village. But whoever is behind this project has saved my family and indeed, the lives of many others in this village who were in an equally desperate state.”

The taps might still be dry but Mr Mok’hena says the fact they have been installed has brought hope to the Ha Lebopo community.

“We will wait but the important thing is the taps are here. With clean water, our hygiene will greatly improve. Right now, we keep a basin of water by the door so we could wash our hands after using the toilet. But I understand it’s not healthy because we use the same water over and over again.

“We also don’t use soap when washing hands because of poverty; we can’t afford the soap. But still we know the importance of washing hands before and after eating food hence this basin despite the fact that it is not hygienic.”

But toilets and taps are not the only developments making the 61-year-old man happy these days. Mr Mok’hena and fellow Ha Lebopo villagers are also benefitting financially from this project which pays each of them M920 for transporting cement and bricks over 10 days.

“We work for 10 days and get paid M920 per person. Immediately after being paid, you give space to the next person in line for employment. If there is still space after every male adult from the village has been employed, the whole process is repeated.

“My family depends on these piece-jobs and farming but after being hit by the drought this year, we are not going to harvest anything and this means disaster for us. I cannot wait to get paid so I can buy maize-meal and coarse salt. My family largely survives on these two.”

He says a 50-kilogramme of maize-meal costs around M350 and to transport it from Mokhotlong town to Ha Lebopo, which is a distance of approximately 30 kilometers, he borrows his neighbour’s donkey and repays the favour with a five-litre container-full of maize-meal.

“I take groceries from local shops on credit and when I eventually get money from piece jobs like this one, I settle the debt and start all over again. This is how we live and I am scared it’s going to be more difficult these coming months since we didn’t harvest anything.”

The Water and Sanitation Programme is driven by the Ministry of Water Affairs and seeks to build over 9000 toilets throughout the country in the 2016/17 financial year.

Under this programme, at least 45 000 people would have access to proper sanitary facilities in line with the ministry’s mandate to provide watersanitation and hygiene (WASH) to the community.

The ministry is further mandated to ensure communities targeted by this programme are sensitised on good WASH practices.

According to the Ministry of Water Affairs Principal Secretary Khomoatsana Tau, ensuring proper sanitary facilities for the people was one of the primary mandates of his ministry.

“People might think the ministry’s mandate ends with giving people access to clean water but that’s not how it works. Giving people sanitation facilities is an added primary responsibility of this ministry both in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, we provide VIPs or outside toilets while in urban areas, it is our mandate to ensure every family has access to waterborne sanitation. Even though we still have outside toilets in townships, it is our desire for every single township household to have a waterborne sanitation facility,” Mr Tau said.

Mr Tau further said it was the responsibility of every government to ensure people have access to water, sanitation and hygiene, adding this programme can be fully funded by a government special budget, ministerial budget or donors.

He said civil society organisations such as World Vision Lesotho is an example of non-governmental organisations working closely with government to provide water, hygiene and sanitation to communities.

“We are closely working and monitoring each other’s work to ensure we don’t duplicate efforts by providing the same services in one community. The Ministry of Local Government, through its community councils, is also helping to put us in check to avoid duplicating efforts.”

Mr Tau also noted the ministry had adopted a strict “no civil servant policy” which bars public servants from doing these jobs.

“In our efforts to ensure efficiency, we have employed independent contractors to do the job and you will not see any civil servant in the villages working on these projects. You will only see them during monitoring exercises. We have already started advertising tenders for independent contractors to do these jobs and you might have seen a lot of activities in the villages concerning this programme.”

Mr Tau also said the importance of easy access to sanitary facilities could not be over-emphasized.

“Collecting water nearby makes one’s living conditions much easier. Secondly, this positively contributes to the country’s economy as it limits the amount of time one takes to fetch water. Instead of using that time to travel long distances to collect water, students will use that time to read while mothers use it for other productive household chores like farming. In this ministry, we say one must not travel more than 150 meters to collect water and if that happens, such a family or individual does not have access to clean water.

“People must also have access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation to improve their lives. For instance, if you move around clinics in Maseru in a single morning, you will realise most of the people there are nursing mothers taking their children for clinical care. Most of these children are suffering from diarrhea and unclean water tops the list as the main cause of these diarrhea cases.

“If their lives are improved, a lot of money spent on providing free healthcare services for diseases that would have been easily avoided would be used for other developments and we are working hard to ensure we don’t only provide sanitation facilities to Basotho but sensitize them on good hygiene,” Mr Tau said.

Mr Tau said the sensitization programmes include teaching people basis hygiene such as washing hands with soap every time they use the toilet to avoid contracting diseases like diarrhea.

“If things were to go by this ministry’s wishes, every Mosotho would have access to WASH services the next day and Lesotho would be transformed overnight but due to financial constraints, we are forced to cover only a number of communities per financial year,” he said.

However, he added it is the responsibility of every individual to ensure services like this one are taken care of.

“We don’t want to do this again. We want every single Mosotho to have access to these services. Taking care of these services would save government a lot of money which would be used to provide the same services to others. For instance, you see a person using a hosepipe to wash a car and water the whole lawn while the next person doesn’t have access to clean water and that is the practice we are trying to root-out.”

He said the ministry had also introduced an “ownership” aspect in this programme by ensuring each benefitting household dis a pit for itself and provides free labour during the construction. The government, he added, pays unskilled labour only for families with special needs, like those living with disabilities.

“Furthermore, the contractor transports sand, cement and bricks to benefitting communities at their own expense and once put in a central place within the village, each household takes the cement needed for building the toilets. That way, people own this programme and ensure it is protected.”

Mr Tau also said the ministry was working hard to educate communities about the use of these sanitation facilities to avoid a repeat of what happened in the past when people turned them into  storerooms.

“Sometime in the early 2000s, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority built toilets for Katse communities but those were turned into storerooms for different reasons. Culturally, in Sesotho, a daughter-in-law isn’t allow to touch anything his father-in-law touches and males and females are not allowed to take the same direction, so we were faced with a huge challenge and such services ended up being used as storerooms. For some few families that understood the importance of this service, families ended up identifying one toilet for males and another for females in the same village.”


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