More than half of the Namibian population lacks access to improved sanitation - a situation which is said to be directly linked to the recent cholera outbreak in the country.
This was revealed by Unicef Namibia representative Micaela Marques de Sousa yesterday during the opening of the Southern Africa Regional Meeting on improving sanitation.
The three-day workshop, themed Community-led Approach to Scaling Up Sanitation Coverage and Sustainable Hygiene Behaviour Change, which comes just seven weeks after the last case of cholera was reported in the country, will provide an opportunity to address the sanitation crisis.
Namibia will participate in an information exchange with 80 experts from the US, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa.
Proposed solutions, amongst others, will involve the use of Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) methods, which incorporate communities in setting an end to open defecation in partnership with government, civil society and other stakeholders.
De Sousa said more than 67% of the population lacks access to improved sanitation, a situation that is compromising the nation's health and development.
She said the situation is worse in rural areas, where 94% of people do not have access to improved sanitation.
"Levels of sanitation coverage in some areas are lower than the national average with Ohangwena at 11%, and Omusati at 17%," she said, adding that the situation is particularly challenging for women and girls who lack privacy and facilities for hygiene management.
The Unicef representative added that the recent reports about the 298 schools that do not have sanitation facilities are concentrated in the five flood-prone regions Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana, Kavango and Zembezi.
"Educating children in good hygiene and sanitation impacts positively on their educational potential and also helps to promote behaviour change in their communities," she said.
De Sousa also said a third of Namibian children are stunted (prevented from growing properly).
"This stunting affects not only the physical and intellectual development of children, but also consequently puts a brake on the future development of the entire country," she said.
De Sousa explained that there is strong evidence, linking childhood under-nutrition and stunting to poor sanitation and hygiene and open defecation in particular.
"Diarrhoea and other infections like worms due to lack of safe drinking water and proper sanitation accounts for about half of ill-health and under-nutrition in children," she said.
Pioneer of CLTS Foundation, Kamar Kar, will be offering his expertise to Namibians, indicating how they can improve sanitation in the country.
Health minister Richard Kamwi said the statistics, especially of the 298 schools that lack sanitation was a wake-up call for his ministry to start addressing the sanitation problem urgently, while agriculture minister John Mutorwa said the fact that more than half of the population uses the bush is an unacceptable situation.
"We must find quicker and more appropriate solutions to reverse the backlog of poor sanitation service provisions," Mutorwa urged, adding that the workshop conducted by his ministry, Unicef and City of Windhoek will have a significant and visible part to play in eventually finding practical alternatives to improving the poor sanitation situation.
Over 32 countries have already rolled out the CLTS approach and reported significant improvements in sanitation.