FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 28 October 2008 - Mahmud Konneh recently finished building a latrine in his village, Tilorma, in the Kenema District of eastern Sierra Leone. It is one of 30 new latrines that have been constructed by Tilorma villagers under the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach.
CLTS encourages communities to build their own latrines out of local materials, and without subsidies or financial support from aid agencies. The approach also discourages the traditional but unhygienic practice of defecating in bushes or open fields.
This sanitation initiative is being supported by UNICEF and the UK Department for International Development, in collaboration with the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health and Sanitation, and non-governmental partners.
Since the January 2008 introduction of CLTS in Sierra Leone, 103 villages have stopped practicing open defecation. As a result, the participating communities are cleaner, more hygienic and less likely to suffer from outbreaks of diarrhoea.
Constructed with palm fronds, gravel and sticks, Mr. Konneh's latrine will serve his family of five, as well as his neighbours.
"At first, we found it very difficult to accept the fact that we ourselves should build our own latrines with our own local materials," he said. "But the sensitization activities managed to touch our minds, and we became convinced of the ill effects of open defecation and of the need to take action."
Roughly 80 per cent of Tilorma villagers were willing to adopt the CLTS approach, and by-laws have been passed as an extra measure to ensure complete compliance. The villagers hope to improve upon the latrines with cement by next year. They are also cultivating vegetable gardens to generate income for latrine improvement projects.
'Empowered and proud'
"We were not only taught how to keep our communities clean, but also how to wash our hands with soap before meals and after using the toilets, in order to prevent diarrhoea and cholera," said Mr. Konneh.
"We used to defecate in the open, and when flies sit on our faeces and then sit on our food, we often would get sick with diarrhoea," he added. "We now feel empowered and proud!"
According to the latest UNICEF and World Health Organization data, only 11 per cent of people in Sierra Leone have access to adequate sanitation facilities; in the rural areas it is just 5 per cent. Only about half of the population - and less than a third in rural areas - has access to safe drinking water.
Such statistics, combined with the effects of armed conflict, help to explain Sierra Leone's unenviable position as the nation with the world's worst mortality rate for children under the age of five. UNICEF hopes that villages like Tilorma will lead the way in improving hygiene and survival rates across the country.