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In Western Zambia, community champions mobilize for better sanitation, decent latrines

A young woman in the village of Kaboyo, Western Zambia, washing her hands with soap in the family toilet

Beauty Matomola is one of the champions of the Government’s Transforming Rural Livelihoods in Western Zambia project, financed by the African Development Bank.  A cheerful, energetic 34-year-old single mother of two, she is using her considerable powers of persuasion to help local communities achieve a low cost, high impact project in the region: getting her neighbors to build decent latrines. Thus far, she has persuaded 48 out of the 55 households in her village to build the improved toilets.

“Open defecation used to be so common,”

says Herbert Chinokoro, the Senior Water and Sanitation Engineer, in the Bank’s Country Office in Zambia, in Matomola’s village of Busitakulo in Sesheke District.

Matomola and her 565 peers, commonly known as “Community Champions, “ are the bedrock of the Transforming Rural Livelihoods in Western Zambia project – and they are determined to ensure that the project’s impact lives up to its name. The construction of these sanitation facilities by individual households is part of what the project calls Community Led Total Sanitation. The project seeks to promote open defecation-free communities, improved household sanitation through marketing, improved hygiene practices, and public sanitation facilities for 830 schools, 16 markets and 70 health centers.

An improved family toilet in the village of Busitakulo, Sesheke District, Western Zambia.

The US$34 million program, of which the Bank-hosted Rural Water and Sanitation Initiative Trust Fund provided US$4.1 million in grant funds, aims to provide sustainable and equitable access to improved water supply and improved sanitation to meet basic needs for improved health and poverty alleviation for Zambia’s rural population in Western Province. The program covers education, income generation, women’s empowerment and supports communities to better prepare for and respond to climate change and other environmental conditions.

The main expected outputs include providing some 745,176 people with access to improved water supply within 500 meters of their homes; targeting more than 431,000 people in 16 districts to stop open defecation; sensitizing nearly 600,000 people through hygiene education and providing more than 83,000 adults and pupils with 900 sanitation units in schools, health centers and markets.

A twine basket prevents the brittle walls of the pit latrines from collapsing

The sandy, brittle soil of western Zambia is not suitable for traditional pit latrines, which tend to collapse after only a few weeks of use. Project organizers adapted a biodegradable, two-meter-long stick and twine -woven basket that is then inserted into the pit before it is covered with a slab. The basket’s semi-hard structure keeps the unstable walls of the pit from collapsing. This type of toilet typically lasts a couple of years, depending on frequency of usage, before it is closed and a new one built. This is in contrast to the traditional ones that sometimes lasted only a couple of weeks.

Improved toilets make for better sanitation with tippy taps, a handwashing device consisting of a plastic can hung on a cross stick that tips over and dispenses soapy water when the user steps on its pulley.

In the village of Koba, near the provincial capital, Mongu, Village Chief Samson Mandweni wants to take visitors to every household toilet so that each household has an improved latrine. “We have defeated dysentery, we have killed diarrhea, we have no cholera,” he says.

Figures from the project’s Provincial Support Team show that there has been a sharp drop in the incidence of these water-borne diseases in the 16 districts where the program is implemented. Bank Chinokoro says that the improved toilets save the villagers the cost of treatment for these diseases, which leads to more children attending school because they are less ill, and adults doing more work because they are healthier, leading to improved harvests and better incomes.

“It is a low cost project, but its impact is really transformational,” he says.  He says the behavior change that the program has brought to these rural communities is likely to last for their lifetimes.

Tumba Mupango, the government Community Development Expert in the Provincial Support Team, worries that people are still building toilets too far away from their houses. “The aspect of safety, especially at night time, and the idea that they can build a toilet right inside their enclosures has not quite caught on yet,” she says.

Matomola says the champions, the majority of whom are women volunteers, are working to get the toilets built closer to homes. For Chinokoro, the champions are his not-so-secret weapon for the success of the sanitation program, which is ahead of schedule.

The project provided the champions with cell phones to send their weekly data on compliance to the provincial team on the open defecation-free status of the villages in real time. Before the rainy season gets going in earnest, on the hills above the floodplain of the great Zambezi River, Chinokoro says that the project intends to supply the champions with gumboots, raincoats, protective wear, flashlights and, to Matomola’s delight, a badge.

WASH Champion Beauty Matomola (right) and two of her neighbors in Busitakulo village, western Zambia