Afshin* is a farmer who lives in a small village in Afghanistan’s Central Highlands. There are 14 families in the village where his family and his brother’s family share one of the traditional mud houses that make up the community.
Although it is a beautiful and peaceful village, there were previously no toilet facilities of any kind. ‘This meant that women in our village had many issues,’ says Afshin. ‘As all of the houses are right next to each other, there was no place for them to use the toilet. Women were forced to wait until it was dark to relieve themselves, so that no one could see them.’
The inconvenience of waiting until evening to go to the toilet was only one aspect of this problem. ‘Everywhere was dirty,’ says Afshin. Open defecation is linked to the spread of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. When water sources become polluted by human waste, the spread of disease is even quicker. Poor sanitation can cause intestinal worms and malnutrition.
Without any latrines the villagers could not easily dispose of their waste in a sanitary way. Not only does open defecation transfer disease, but it can also pollute water sources, which increases the speed of diseases spreading.
Last year, a Tearfund partner teamed up with the villagers to address these issues. First, villagers participated in a water, sanitation and health training programme. Then, in the summer, villagers helped to build sanitary latrines for each family.
Through the training, villagers also learnt that latrines aren’t the only important aspect to safer, healthier communities. ‘The community development team helped us to build a hand pump well in our village, and now we have safe water,’ says Afshin.
Today in the village, women are able to use the latrines at any time of day in comfort, and it is a much cleaner environment. ‘We are happy,’ says Afshin. Disease has decreased, and the community recognises the importance of both good sanitation and safe water for drinking, cooking and washing.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, in a village in the Chaprequl region, a team running a peacebuilding course noticed that there were no toilets. They asked the women where they usually went to the toilet. The women replied that they normally hid in the ruins of old buildings, in the trees, or near the river.
‘Now we have latrines, our village is cleaner, disease has decreased, and there is a private place to relieve ourselves.’
In the winter, however, with the harsh climate and the men not out in the fields, it was more challenging. There was no place they could go to relieve themselves discreetly – even hiding in the trees provides little cover in winter.
The women went on to share that the issue continued into the spring, when the snow melts. Suddenly, a season’s worth of faeces from open defecation was revealed among the grass and other plants. This made it unsanitary to harvest crops in this area.
So the peacebuilding team suggested that they build temporary latrines, as they knew their construction team would not be able to return to the village in the near future. Temporary pit latrines are an excellent interim solution, as they are easy to build and can help to keep the village clean.
The following week, when the peacebuilders returned to give their next lesson, most of the families in the village had built a temporary latrine for themselves.
They were grateful for the motivation and direction to do something about the issue themselves. One member of the community said: ‘Now our village is cleaner, disease has decreased, and there is a private place to relieve ourselves.’
For further hygiene and sanitation resources, visit Footsteps 97 on Hygiene and Sanitation.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.