Ouagadougou — For far too many households in Burkina Faso, going to the toilet means heading for the bush. The Burkinabè government has launched a new campaign to change this, calling on prominent personalities as both sponsors and champions.
"It's an initiative based on solidarity between individuals and communities in order to speed up construction of latrines and put an end to defecation in the open air - which is a widespread practice more or less everywhere in the country - and to reduce diseases linked to poor hygiene," explained Halidou Koanda, who works for the non-governmental organisation WaterAid.
In 2011, WaterAid and the Burkinabè Ministry for Water and Agriculture carried out a survey of the home villages of 70 notable people from all walks of life, including members of parliament, government ministers, and former presidents, prominent business people and sports personalities.
"When we toured their home villages, we found the same thing everywhere: the rate of open air defecation was close to 95 percent," Koanda told IPS.
"In rural areas, it's not rare to see VIPs who are hosting guests in their home villages for some occasion find themselves struggling to provide facilities for their guests to relieve themselves," he said.
According to a 2010 survey carried out by the National Institute for Statistics and Demographics (INSD), the rate of access to a toilet inside the household is just 3.1 percent nationally. Nearly ten percent of urban households have a latrine, whereas in rural areas that falls to less than one percent.
"Even though the government and its partners are spending money on sanitation, the number of projects being completed each year will not allow us to attain the Millennium Development Goal in 2015," said Marie Denis Sondo, director general of waste water and excreta at the ministry for water and agriculture.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a series of development and anti-poverty targets agreed by U.N. member states in 2000. One of the targets is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Faced with the slow progress on the question of hygiene and sanitation, the Burkinabè government and its partners launched a national campaign of advocacy and mobilisation for adequate access to sanitation in 2010.
At the end of the campaign, the government and its partners had constructed 617,000 household latrines and 13,200 public toilets built at a total cost of around 120.7 million dollars.
But the resources marshalled by the government and donors will not allow enough latrines to be built to reach the MDG in 2015, said WaterAid's Koanda.
"So society's leaders must lend their financial support to build latrines as well as give some of their time to raise awareness and mobilise people so that questions of hygiene and sanitation are prioritised," Sondo told IPS.
The response to this call has come from the very top. The Burkinabè prime minister, Luc Adolphe Tiao, hails from the village of Pouni, a hundred kilometres south of the capital. Dominique Ido, Pouni's mayor, told IPS the sanitation situation there is much the same as in other rural areas of the country.
"There are very few households with their own toilets in the village. Maybe two percent," he said. "There are communal latrines in the schools and other public places, but people don't use them at night. So we are hoping to bring everyone we can together around this initiative so we can increase the number of toilets between now and 2015."
In August, the prime minister made his contribution. "The government decided last February that each person will make a gift of toilets in his village or neighbourhood. So I've constructed thirty in my village, hoping that this gesture will lead others to follow," said Tiao.
"Sanitation has become a real problem in our country, and it's an important indicator of development," he said.
According to WaterAid, if significant numbers of VIPs follow the prime minister's lead, it may still be possible to reach the MDG on sanitation.
To mobilise additional funding, the government and its partners also organised a "sanitation marathon" on public radio and television, which raised around 170,000 dollars.
"It's the first time, but a successful effort. Now the government wants to see the initiative organised in each region so the most celebrated sons in each area can rally round the political and administrative authorities to make sure the question of toilets is no longer just a matter for the government," said Koanda.
Arthur Kafando, the minister for commerce, said that his village, Rayongo, on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, is a newly subdivided area and lacks sanitation facilities. "I built a dozen toilets. We want to help people to understand the importance of these matters for their well-being. So we are going to appeal to many others to help us."