4 January 2016

Namibia: Informal Settlements Sink in Poor Sanitation

It is common to see small children defecating next to dump sites among shacks early mornings in any of the densely populated settlements in Zambezi region.

This is so because most often the makeshift toilets are overflowing while the bush is not within walking distance.

This is what people in other informal settlements across the country such as Goreangab Dam, Okahandja Park and Havana in Windhoek are experiencing.

Hendrina Immanuel (23) said it is unfortunate for a girl to be forced to use makeshift toilets or be forced to use the bushes.

Another 25-year-old, Lydia Hausiku who lives with a family of eight said: "Because the bush is so far away, we often use chamber pots and buckets. There is no other way. Once the buckets and the pots are full, we walk to the bushes to dump the waste."

Others like Martin Samuel use 'flying toilets' - plastic bags used for open defecation and then flung onto dump sites and riverbeds.

"We have a shower here. We made it with plastics and sticks, but there is no toilet. So even when you get sick at 03h00, you are forced to use plastic bags. It is very bad. We would appreciate any kind of toilet the government can erect for us. It does not have to flush," he said.

Makeshift toilets line Monte Cristo road in Windhoek. They were built by some community members whose shacks also line the road.

Patterns of stinking brown dirt seep through the toilet/bathroom down to the road, attracting flies where children play nearby, enduring the heavy stench.

Namibia has experienced several cases of cholera outbreaks across the country, with 14 cases reported in Windhoek's Katutura last year. It was also reported that half of the population in Namibia make use of the bush, which has led to poor sanitation and stunted growth in children.

Due to the lack of water in rural areas and informal settlements, government has constructed dry pit latrines to improve sanitation and keep people from open defecation.

However, this initiative has been looked down on due to lack of maintenance and the stench at times associated with dry pit latrines.

Last year, The Namibian also reported that government has been planning to construct 6 500 dry pit latrines in rural areas annually.

This initiative by the agriculture ministry was started in 2009 as part of the National Sanitation Strategy and N$200 million was set aside for the construction of 500 toilets per region on an ongoing basis.

However, by last year only 1 000 toilets had been constructed.

The agriculture ministry says the dry toilet system is the only option, since the majority of rural communities do not have running water.

Systems utilising water require a large capital investment and can cost up to N$30 000 to N$80 000 per household compared to some N$10 000 to N$25 000 per household for dry sanitation facilities.

However, the National Sanitation Strategy which forms part of the agriculture ministry acknowledges other types of dry system toilets such as the VIP toilet, dehydration toilets separating the solid and liquid waste such as the Enviro Loo, the Otji toilet and other urine diversion systems.

Eline van der Linden, who is promoting water-friendly sanitation with her company Omuramba Impact Investing CC, states:

"No matter which system is used, the user education, daily cleaning, and periodic maintenance protocols are key to the success of the toilet. When people are not shown how to use the toilet and what they can and cannot deposit in the toilet, this toilet is likely to fail. A toilet that is not clean does not provide a safe and hygienic sanitation option. And a broken toilet is not a toilet."

She says the dehydration or composting toilets generally perform better than the VIP toilets in terms of odour and fly control. It is important to choose the right toilet for the right environment. For example in areas prone to flooding or with a high water table, a fully sealed unit is preferred over a VIP system.

Van der Linden, through her organisation, recently completed a successful pilot rehabilitation programme of 10 existing Enviro Loo toilet units in the informal settlement areas of Havana and Okahandja Park in Katutura.


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