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From: Sanitation – Footsteps 9

Ideas for working with communities to improve hygiene, sanitation and health

by Isobel Blackett.

In 1981 the Government of Lesotho made a commitment to improve the water and sanitation if the country. An initial Urban Sanitation Project was started. By 1983 this project, known as the Urban Sanitation Improvement Team (USIT), was well established and a Rural Sanitation Project (RSP) was beginning work, based on some of USIT’s experiences.

Who has the responsibility to improve sanitation?

Both the USIT and RSP are now well established and successful programmes. Their work covers almost the entire country and a significant improvement has been seen in the sanitation of many households in both rural and urban areas.

The ideas behind both programmes are similar and based on the following:

  • Improved health requires clean water supply, adequate sanitation and good health and hygiene practices.
    Sanitation is the responsibility of the individual householder. 
  • Adequate sanitation should be seen as being as much part of a house as the door or roof. 
  • If people pay for their own latrines it means they really want them and will then look after, clean and maintain them properly.
  • People require encouragement, education, practical help and assistance to improve their sanitation facilities and hygiene practices.

What encourages people to improve sanitation?

In Lesotho it has been found that people like to build improved latrines for two main reasons:

  1. Through health education they have learnt that improved sanitation and hygiene practices are good for their health
  2. An improved latrine adds status to the house and is regarded as modern and attractive. It is also convenient and comfortable to use.

Promotion is carried out over the radio, in schools, churches and clinics; also in community groups, women’s organisations and by local chiefs and officials who help USIT and RSP in promoting improved sanitation and hygiene. USIT will work with anyone who’s interested!

‘I’d like a VIP latrine. Please can you help me?’

A client will come into a USIT office, having decided to find out more about the Ventilated Improved Pit Latrines (VIPs).

A USIT officer will explain how the VIP works and the best way to get one. The client will be given a material list, cost estimate, plans and help to find a trained builder. The client will be offered a loan for 60% of the cost if they have difficulty in paying for the VIP at once.

A technical officer goes to the person’s house and looks at the site. The client is advised on the best place to put the latrine and the way it should face. If the client agrees, the pit site is marked out on the ground and the client then digs out the pit.

The client collects the materials and gets the builder to start work. During this time USIT will supervise construction and check everything is going well.

When the latrine is finished the USIT community staff will visit the client and explain how best to use, clean and maintain their new VIP.

Training local builders

USIT and RSP arrange ten-day builders’ training courses for local builders in every town and in the rural areas. These builders would usually build homes and, by training them, latrine building becomes associated with house building and latrines are often build without any input from either of the projects.


If you visited Lesotho you would see long rows of VIPs in primary and high schools all around the country. USIT believes that children need to know about good hygiene and sanitation from an early age. If they learn that sanitation is important, when they grow up and have their own families they won’t want to use the bush, a bucket or unimproved latrines.

USIT community staff will come and talk to the teachers and students about cleaning, maintenance and health education. USIT uses tape-slide programmes and other attractive materials to help teach the children about good hygiene practices and how to look after the new latrines.

Isobel Blackett worked in Lesotho for six years with USIT, promoting good sanitation.

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