A toilet means better health, safety and dignity

Kenya has made significant progress in reducing open defecation

In Summary

•Poor hygiene practices not only hindered a child’s survival and cognitive development, but they were also leading cause of malnutrition and stunting.

The SaTo stool installed in James Odongo’s homestead.
The SaTo stool installed in James Odongo’s homestead.
Image: JOY WANJA MURAYA

James Odongo, 70, a retired farm manager from western Kenya, spends his evenings watching the horizon.

With his older children working in other towns, his countryside home is peaceful. He savours the evening hours, when he waits for the sun to set and the sky to change colours.

Because he was permanently injured in 2007 post-election violence, which were marked by ethnic hostility, Odongo’s doesn’t enjoy all of life’s tedium as much as he does the twilight skyline.

Take going to the latrine. With a bad back, hips and legs, he was unable to go by himself. Instead, family members would have to help, especially as they only had a squatting toilet.

There had to be a better way. So the family tried a brick sitting system. But it was difficult to clean and wasn’t user-friendly. Then in 2019, at a public baraza organised by Siaya County health department, Odongo learnt of the “SaTo” stool. A plastic, raised alternative to pit latrines, the new toilet gave Odongo independence and a much-needed seat.

“This improved alternative has given me a chance to independently use the toilet without my wife getting worried about my posture and safety,” said Odongo.

As we mark World Toilet Day (WTD), it’s important to note that 3.6 billion people across the world are living without access to safely managed sanitation.

This year’s theme, ‘valuing toilets,’ draws attention to the fact that sanitation systems are underfunded, poorly managed and neglected in many parts of the world.

This has devastating consequences for health, economics and the environment, particularly in the poorest and most marginalized communities.

Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 challenges countries to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation, as well as hygiene for all, ending open defecation.

James Odongo demonstrates how the SaTo stool has been beneficial
James Odongo demonstrates how the SaTo stool has been beneficial
Image: JOY WANJA MURAYA

Unicef's water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) programme works with partners in Kenya to provide equitable access to sanitation and clean water, and encourages communities to stop the practice of open defecation by constructing pit latrines with locally available materials.

Mahboob Bajwa, Unicef Kenya Wash chief, said exposed faecal matter could contaminate food and water sources, spread deadly diseases, such as cholera.

Poor hygiene practices not only hindered a child’s survival and cognitive development, but they were also leading cause of malnutrition and stunting.

“Lack of sanitation can also be a barrier to individual prosperity and dignity,” Bajwa said. “Toilets provide the hygienic environment needed by children and adults to fight disease and stay healthy.”

He added that building and using toilets went hand-in-hand with handwashing, especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the last decade Kenya has made significant progress in reducing open defecation from 13.3 per cent of the overall population, to 8.9 per cent, and safely managed sanitation services increases from 38.2 per cent to 45 per cent (JMP 2019).

However, according to the national 2019 census, nearly 4.7 million people in Kenya still practice open defecation. At the current rate of progress, Kenya won’t achieve ODF status until 2053, decades longer than planned.

But at least in western Kenya, some counties have achieved ODF status. For example, Kitui attained ODF status in all of its 4,930 villages after four years of dedicated work. This status was endorsed by the National Ministry of Health in September 2018.

The sanitation journey in Kitui County and Siaya counties has been successful as a result of the leadership of the respective county governments, UNICEF Kenya, donors including Japan, and partners like INK and LIXIL.