The Ripple Effects of Improved Access to Water and Sanitation
In rural southwestern Somalia, new latrines and wells are helping to reduce malnutrition, water-borne diseases, and gender-based violence.
By: Fardosa Hussein
Somalia Communications Manager, Action Against Hunger
June 7, 2019
In southwestern Somalia, access to clean water and latrines is a rare luxury. Prolonged conflict and drought have forced thousands of people to flee their homes in search of safety, and too many find themselves in areas lacking basic water and sanitation.
Inadequate water and sanitation are deeply intertwined with malnutrition: in fact, 50 percent of child malnutrition is related to unsafe and inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Without clean water, illnesses like diarrhea are common and can prevent children from absorbing key nutrients and make them more susceptible to other health issues. Lack of latrines both in homes and in shared spaces like schools and health centers perpetuates open defecation, which can result in cholera and other diseases and can contribute to malnutrition.
Our teams are working tirelessly to improve access to clean water, safe sanitation, and healthy hygiene by building and repairing wells, constructing latrines, and educating community members on the importance of hand washing and clean drinking water. And the impact extends far beyond health and nutrition.
IMPROVING SAFETY FOR GIRLS AND WOMEN
In many areas, women have no choice but to walk for miles, looking for a safe place to relieve themselves or wait until dusk to defecate in the open. These walks take time, and they often put girls and women at risk of violence.
“It is a dangerous affair for women. You are not sure who is out there at night,” says Fadumo Abdi, who lives in a displacement camp.
“Lack of access to sanitation robs you of your dignity,” adds Mumina Ali, an Action Against Hunger community hygiene volunteer.
In a recent assessment across five villages, Action Against Hunger found that just 17% of households in this area of Somalia have access to latrines. In and around the village of Yeed, our teams have constructed 25 new latrines – and their impact is already being felt by the women in the community.
“I don’t have to stress about looking for a safe place to relieve myself, and I save a lot of time because the latrines are nearby,” says Amina Abdi, mother of six.
LOCAL MATERIALS AND MAN POWER
In the village of Washaqo, Action Against Hunger worked with residents to build an additional ten latrines using locally sourced materials. Since their completion, the community has recorded an 18% decrease in open defecation.
Mohamed Takal Noor, a village elder, was proud of the high level of community participation during construction. He is encouraging neighboring villages to construct latrines using locally available materials and to mobilize community members to help with excavation.
To ensure that latrines remain in good condition for years to come, Action Against Hunger’s community hygiene volunteers train village residents on long-term maintenance.
LONG-TERM IMPACT ON HEALTH AND NUTRITION
Community volunteers also help spread the word about good hygiene habits. After receiving training from our team, Bisharo Muhamed put her knowledge into practice and has been urging her neighbors to do the same.
“After my family started using the latrine, there was less illness, especially among the children,” she says. “Now, I don’t have to spend most of my income on healthcare.”
Education about water, sanitation, and hygiene is also resonating within Action Against Hunger’s health and nutrition centers. Raxo Ahmed brought her youngest daughter, Aisha, to a nearby center, where the girl diagnosed with the deadliest form of hunger – severe acute malnutrition.
It was there that, as her daughter received treatment and recovered, Raxo first learned about good hygiene and health practices. She now cites lack of access to clean water as a major factor contributing to malnutrition in her village.
Raxo also learned some simple tips to keep her family safe from disease, including household water storage, water treatment like boiling and use of chlorine products, hand washing, proper disposal of waste, and safe sanitation.
“I will put into practice what I learned at the center…and I will teach my neighbors so that they can benefit from having clean water in their homes, too,” she says.