Saturday, October 6, 2012

WASH Your Hands! How Poor Water Sanitation and Hygiene Wreaks Havoc in Sierra Leone

Ever had to queue for the bathroom? Ever been annoyed with being asked to pay for using the loo in a club? Ever disliked the smell in a public toilet?
Try Kroobay a slum in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There are exactly four public toilets for a population of 12,000. If you want to use them you are asked to pay 1000 Leonie, which is about what you would pay for a cheap meal on the street or what a poor person has to survive on. Sometimes they are cleaned, but only with water for lack of detergent.
In Kroobay, nobody has a toilet in their shack. So, what do people do when they want to “ease themselves”? One way of solving this human problem is to “DHL it”. Well, there surely is a DHL office somewhere in the business district of Freetown. But in Kroobay, “DHLing it” means, taking a plastic bag, doing what you need to do and then….well in Nairobi’s biggest slum they call this the “flying toilets of Kibera”.
Before we forget: Hands ought to be washed after the “business”. Well, you will not be surprised that none of the inhabitants of Kroobay has a tap in their hut. There is a public water pump in the slum. Primarily young girls come here daily to fetch water balancing 25 liter buckets on their heads and leaking jelly cans in their hands. Since even at public pumps the water is not safe, an Oxfam trained volunteer chlorinates it for them. The water, which is supplied by the Freetown Municipality is pumped through tiny tubes – called “spaghetti pipes” – all over the sprawling 1.5 Mio city. The problem: the further you are away from the water company, the more expensive und unsafe the water gets. If you do not happen to live close to a water pump, you rely on a number of private intermediaries who supply water at mark up prices. In essence, the poorest people in the slums of Freetown pay up to 100 per cent more for their water than the better off who simply turn on the tab in their own private bathroom. Not surprisingly people sometimes cut the tubes to access water for free. Tubes – which in rainy season often lead through poodles of smelly liquids and stinking solids – are then not protected against the invasion of germs.
Child mortality in Sierra Leone is amongst the highest in the world with every tenth child dying before they reach their fifth birthday. Waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death for poor people, notably small children. As you read this, Sierra Leone experiences yet another Cholera outbreak. Since its start 93 people have died in Freetown alone. Does that surprise you?

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