In Somalia’s rural areas, open defecation is a common practice, leading to serious public health risks. With its local partner HEAL, UNICEF is helping villages adopt ‘Community-Led Total Sanitation’ to achieve the status of open defecation free.

In the village of HARGEISA, Sa’ado clearly remembers the time when she had to walk far into the open to relieve herself, waiting as long as she could to avoid the embarrassment. The experience was particularly unpleasant during the rainy season and the months when she was pregnant. But like the other 87 households in the village, Sa’ado and her family had never before had a toilet, nor had given any thought to having one.

When UNICEF’s local partner, an NGO called HEAL, came to their village, persuading the residents to abandon open defecation, Sa’ado and her husband immediately agreed to build a toilet. In the next few months all of the families in the village had followed suit.

There were no incentives given from UNICEF and HEAL, only awareness campaigns and technical assistance. The villagers put up their own money and did the construction on their own. This approach – Community-Led Total Sanitation – has been tested and proven in many other countries and regions.

“The children in the village used to have diarrhoea a lot,” says Sa’ado. “But since we built the toilets, we have hardly seen any cases.”

The key to the success of the project is to make the people understand that open defecation is an unhygienic practice and causes serious illnesses, especially for children and pregnant women. When the community realized that the river where they get water their drinking water was contaminated they were convinced that a toilet is not a luxury but a necessity.

“We knew from the start that we would benefit from the toilet,” says Yusur Abdillahi of Hirsi Jicir, one of the villages declared open defecation free. “We now have a place that gives us privacy and convenience. When new people come and want to settle in our village, we ask them to dig first, or we will not welcome them,” she says, standing proudly next to her toilet.

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich