Written by: Lahja Nashuuta. March 10, 2016
Windhoek, Namibia – Every year on November 19, the global community observes the World Toilet Day, an event designated by the United Nations (UN) to raise awareness about the people in the world who don’t have access to proper toilets, despite the fact that it is a human right to have clean water and sanitation.
According to UN Water, an agency that coordinates the UN’s work on freshwater and sanitation, the World Toilet Day is about the 2.4 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation. It is about the nearly 1 billion people who have to defecate in the open.
In his statement to observe last year’s World Toilet Day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon noted that sanitation is central to human and environmental health as well as to individual opportunity, development and dignity. But he registered his disappointment that to date, one in every three people lacks improved sanitation, and one in every eight practices open defecation, worldwide.
The Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) 7, target 3, outlined the global ambition to the proportion of people without access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
But up to the end of last year, there has been no tangible progress by the global community, especially in developing countries like in Africa to provide proper sanitations facilities, which the UN has warned is having negative effects on people’s health, safety, and dignity.
A 2014 progress report by the WaterAid has revealed that majority of governments in Southern African region, like the rest of the continent have failed to deliver on their promises on water and sanitation.
This left over 40 million people in the region without access to safe drinking water and 73 million without sanitation. Botswana and Angola have been rounded for their efforts to half the number of people without access to clean drinking water and sanitation during the implementations of the MDGs.
Justine Eilonga, a resident of Havana informal settlement in Windhoek is one of thousands of Namibians who were let down by their own government, which failed to provide them with basic sanitation facilities.
Although Namibia has met the target for water provision with over 87 percent of the households in the country have access to improved water supply, the target for sanitation was missed dismally.
While most of their country men and women are line-up in banks or in the shops to pay for their goods and services, Eilonga and other residents of Havana in the periphery of Namibia’s main city, Windhoek are queueing up and impatiently waiting for their turns to make use of a single toilet that serves close to a thousand people, irrespective of gender and age.
“We are sharing this one toilet with many people,” she said while pointing to a solitary toilet that was erected by the Windhoek Municipality.
“It’s just unhygienic and unbelievable that people from other informal settlements also track long distances to come use this toilet. I cannot blame them because I am aware that there is not a single toilet there but it is the municipality responsibility to ensure that the inhabitants have access to portable water and toilet facilities,” she said
Eilonga said the situation forces many people to relieve themselves in open, and at night especially women and children are forced to use baskets, which they dispose in the river beds the next morning, a situation which she distribute as undignified. Others especially those that are living in the new informal settlements dig their own traditional latrines.
Helodia Amadhila, also the resident of Havana, who is concerned about using public toilet at night due to especially with regard to security and health issues.
“I suffer a lot when nature calls during the night time because the only available toilet is very far and there are lots of bad people in the area. Although I stay with my two sons, some time they are not in the house and there is no one to escort me, leaving me with no choice but to use a basket which is very unhygienic,” she said.
Simon Nghindini, also a resident of Havana and whose shack is over a kilometer from the nearest public toilet relate a similar story to that of Amadhila, Eilonga and thousands of other Namibians without proper sanitation facilities.
“Most of the time the toilets are not working. This can be explained by a large number of people using the toilets, and municipal officials take their time to come fix them,” he said about a block of 12 toilets that were built by the City of Windhoek to serve the community of Havana.
“We decided to dig our own toilet because there is nowhere to relieve ourselves. This place is overcrowded and open space are scares. It’s a terrible situation we are living in,” Losivite Tuyeni, a resident of Gereagob, while pointing at family toilet her boyfriend has dug for them, a few meters from their corrugated irons house.
Namibia Demographic and Health Survey of 2013 indicated that only 34 percent of the population having access to improved sanitation which is against a target to have reached 66 percent of the population by 2015 as set out in the National Sanitation Strategy.
During the 9th Water and Sanitation Sector Joint Annual Review on February 2, in Windhoek by the government ministries and stakeholders in water and sanitation sector including the European Union, as development partner, the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa has acknowledged the country’s failure to provide proper sanitation to the majority of the population.
“Access to water has increased overally, even if sanitation remains – despite our genuine efforts – the neglected stepchild of this country. The challenge now lies with lack of progress on sanitation with only 34 percent of the population having access to improved sanitation,” he said.
“However, the victims affected by inadequate access to sanitation are as usual are primarily the poor. The problem of poor access to sanitation is particularly acute in the rural areas where only 17 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities with an alarming rate as high as 46.5 percent of open defecation. Also equally affected are the informal settlements. The low access to improved sanitation constitutes a serious public-health problem”.
Minister Mutorwa also blamed the poor sanitation standard in urban centers such as Windhoek on the rapid increase in rural to urban migration, saying that the country needed to find urgent solution to the low access of sanitation in informal settlements.
“The disparity of water and sanitation service coverage between urban and rural is cause for concern. We cannot also ignore the rapid rural to urban migration that is going on at an estimated alarming rate of 3.5 percent per annum. This has a major impact on water and sanitation service delivery particularly in urban areas,” said the minister.
Having failed to deliver better sanitation facilities during the past 15 years, Namibia has now set herself a mammoth task to improve access to sanitation from the current 34 percent to 70 percent by 2017.
According to the Sanitation Strategic Plan, a total required budget to implement all initiatives in the plan was N$1.579 billion over the five year period from 2010/11-2014/15, with an average of N$316 million per annum. However, media reports indicate that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has been sitting on the funds that were a solution to the problem of poor sanitation in the country.
The ministry’s Director of Water Supply and Sanitation Coordination, Theopolina Nantanga gave a lame excuses in an interview with The Villager newspaper in June 2015 that the sanitation project failed to get off the off the ground because of numerous challenges including public education.
Nantanga however explained that the water and sanitation situation currently prevailing in the country is characterised by scarce water resources, poor access to running water in rural areas and a large percentage of the population living in vulnerable conditions in informal settlements.
The City of Windhoek manager for corporate communications, Joshua Amukugo said water and sanitation provisions one of the top priorities issues at the municipality.
“The City of Windhoek sees access to water and improved sanitation as one of the key challenges to the general upliftment of our society, in particular the more vulnerable portion thereof. In this regard the city has expended millions in the provision of water and sanitation facilities throughout the city to those in need and will continue to do so as the organization is fully aware of its social responsibility and is making a real, concerted effort to address all issues at hand,” Amukugo said.
The city official pointed the maintenance of facilities and water shortages as the most pressing challenges. “The maintenance of established sanitation facilities is proving to be by far the biggest challenge. Technical solutions exist in a variety of forms and even funding can be sourced, but sustaining the facility in working order has failed in many instances.
“Given the nature of a sanitation installation and the fact that these toilets are not under care of a single individual or household in many instances lead to these installations being subjected to vandalism, unhygienic usage and even the theft of water.
“The provision of adequate sanitation is a major challenge on its own, however maintaining this has proven almost impossible under the current model.
This is also one of the primary reasons the City of Windhoek has embarked on an extensive process to review the current model of providing sanitation throughout the spectrum of service provision under the mandate of the organization.
“A second and equally important issue that has become overdue and need to be urgently addressed is the ever increasing shortage of water in the central areas of Namibia.
This situation is seriously straining development and impacting on the ability of the City of Windhoek to expand service delivery to all residents.
The Namibian Government should realise the challenge posed by this and ensure that this is resolved sooner rather than later,” he said.
Meanwhile, countries in Southern Africa like Namibia still have a chance to deliver on renewed promises following the adoption by the world leaders of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015.
This agenda includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. The SDGs are built on the MDGs that ended last year. And the universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation is one Sustainable Development Goals.
However it is going to be costly to achieve universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, according to Jean-Philippe Bayon, the coordinator for the UNDP-Global Water Solidarity. In blog post on the UNDP official website, Bayon noted US$ 27 billion are needed annually to provide clean water and sanitation by 2030. He said official development assistance (ODA) may covers approximately one third of the target but 17 billion are still missing.
He believes that local and regional authorities like the City of Windhoek, “can contribute to filling the endemic resource gap that cripples water interventions.
I believe local to local cooperation is an important part of the solution but to make it fully effective we need to improve its modus operandi”.