Women lead in sanitation project

14 May 2003

An innovative project aimed at improving health conditions by changing hygiene practices and improving sanitation is changing the lives of a community north of Pretoria. And women are playing a key role in that transformation.

According to the White Paper on Basic Household sanitation, nearly one million households in South Africa have no access to sanitation and a further two million have inadequate sanitation.

According to David Gadd, project manager for Rand Water’s community-based project department, the Winterveldt Community Sanitation Project was launched in 2001 “as it was felt that the full health benefits of the water project could only be fully realised with the implementation of improved sanitation”.

In line with national policy for rural and peri-urban household sanitation – which focuses on creating ownership of sanitation facilities by providing a household subsidy for on-site sanitation facilities – the project set out to help the Winterveldt community construct their own latrines.

“The key objective of the project is to achieve health improvements in the community by changing current poor hygiene behavioural practices and improving sanitation facilities so that they are sustainable in the long term. This includes the development – through skills training – of an environment in which such facilities can be maintained and improved,” Gadd said.

The project began with a pilot project in Ten Morgan, the most rural section of Winterveldt that includes 1 000 households. The lessons learned from this pilot project were then applied to planning for the other under-serviced areas of Winterveldt, covering over 23 000 households. To date, about 1 050 toilets have been constructed throughout the settlement.

Gadd said that ensuring sustainability was vital. When the project needed to find builders, it ensured that not only experienced builders would apply, but also women with no building experience.

“The advantages of appointing women as builders are that they are more likely than men to remain in the community due to household commitments and, as primary care givers, they are more able to communicate important hygiene and maintenance messages. Currently over 50 percent of the builders on the project are women.”

The community selected a “suite” of designs, with consideration given to their maintenance requirements, capital costs, water requirements and cultural impacts.

The ventilated improved pit latrine remains one of the most cost-effective ways of providing sanitation to rural areas. The way it works is simple: waste drops into the pit, where organic material decomposes and liquids seep into the surrounding soil.

Continuous airflow through the top-structure and above the vent pipe removes smells and releases gases into the atmosphere. By maintaining a darkened interior, insects entering the pit are attracted towards the light at the top of the vent pipe and trapped by the fly screen.

“One of the key lessons learned during the pilot project is that trained community members, staff and builders involved in the project were capable of implementing the project with minimal external input and few significant problems,” said Gadd.

“It is virtually impossible to eradicate poverty and disease as well as improve quality of life without adequate sanitation and hygiene,” said Rand Water CEO Simo Lushaba.

Lushaba noted that, in most cases, local governments do not have the capacity to implement service delivery to the required standards and speed. “Public sector players, like Rand Water, can and do – in partnership with local government,” he said.

Source: Rand Water

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