Access to Latrines

An unedited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Sept 14, 2012.

Islamabad – Five million Pakistanis, who used to defecate in the open, now have access to latrines, thanks to a joint rural sanitationprogramme by UNICEF, Plan International Pakistan and other implementing partners.

Details and results of the programme ‘Early Recovery Program on Rural Sanitation in Flood-affected areas’ were shared during a two-day workshop that began at a private hotel in Islamabad on Thursday.

Imran Yousaf Shami, country programme manager of Plan International Pakistan, said the programme has three main purposes: 100 percent safe disposal of excretory material in rural areas, a movement to construct latrines inside homes, and spreading health and hygiene knowledge among people.

The programme, which aims to target 7 million people in 33 districts across Pakistan in several phases, uses a novel technique called the Pakistan Approach to Total Sanitation (PATS). The technique was developed specifically for Pakistan by organizations working toward improving sanitation conditions in the country.

“There is a big gap between demand creation of sanitation and the supply side in Pakistan,” Shami said. “So in PATS, once we motivated people to adopt sanitation and safe hygiene practices, we looked at the supply side as well by setting up sanitation markets closer to their homes.”

The project was started with funding from Unicef after the devastating floods of 2010, Shami said.

Hendrik Van Norden, Unicef’s regional director of sanitation and hygiene, told the Express Tribune he was sceptical about the project at the beginning.

“I thought for people who have lost everything in the floods, sanitation might not be their top priority,” he said.

But the results have been encouraging. A survey of 439 households that were part of the programme showed that 71 percent people self-financed the construction of a latrine in their house.

The programme involved reaching out to rural communities through community resource persons. Shahzad, a villager from district Mardan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said he got involved with the programme when a resource person visited his village to raise awareness aboutsanitation.

Since then, people in his village have made closed enclosures for dumping garbage, constructed latrines in their homes, started washing their hands with soap and they clean their streets regularly.

“Construction of latrines was the biggest benefit we got from this programme,” he said. “Sanitary wares were provided at cheap rates, so even the poor people bought it.”

Talking to the Express Tribune, UNICEF’s director for water, sanitation and hygiene Simone Klawitter said, “We are not dropping latrines, but we are facilitating a learning process in the communities in order to help them construct their own latrines. It’s an approach that relies on behavioural change.”

She said in order to reach out to millions of Pakistanis who are still defecating in the open they would need the help of provincial governments.

“Provincial governments can take the rural sanitation forward,” Van Norden said.

He said he saw an email recently about the government of Punjab considering allocating funds for rural sanitation.

“That was the best email of the month for me,” he said.

Addressing the workshop participants, Federal secretary of the ministry of climate change, Mehmood Alam said, “The ministry is working towards reducing the number of people without access to sanitation by half.”

Alam said that public and private efforts have collectively brought up the rate of Pakistanis with access to sanitation to 48 percent from 34 percent in 2009, and Pakistan is well on its way to achieving the millennium development goal of 68 percent by 2018.

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