By Kebba Jeffang & Sarjo Camara in CRR
Gambia government, through the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare and the Environment, Parks, Wildlife and Water Resources and with support from UNICEF, launched a declaration to end open defecation in the country, making Gambia the first country to declare throughout the continent.
The ceremony held at Dalagas community in the Central River Region (CRR) on Saturday, 29 August, 2015 brought together the two ministers, regional governor, UNICEF Country Representative, staff as well as local settlers in the satellite villages. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jaliba Kuyateh and his music band also attended the ceremony.
The officials also entertained some questions from the media personnel during the press briefing.
In his welcoming statement, Governor Omar Khan disclosed that lack of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death, particularly among children. He said it is estimated that about 2 million children die each year from pneumonia and diarrhoea.
“Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is purely a community approach introduced in the Gambia in 2009. The beauty of this approach is that solutions are not from outside, community themselves taking the lead and identify their own measures to end open defecation,” said Governor Khan.
Mr. Babagalleh Jallow, the CRR Regional Health Director, indicated that they gained a national success through Community Led Total Sanitation after achieving 2% of it on ending open defecation in the country. He said government and partners are yet putting up another substantive measure on sanitary issues of the country. He noted that with the availability of toilets and other sanitary amenities, the health crisis cause by open defecation can be prevented.
“UNICEF Country office through the ministry of health and social welfare has given financial, technical and moral support to train more than 400 extension workers country-wide on CLTS approach to embark on community triggering exercise, in a bid to eliminate open defecation in the Gambia,” said CRR Regional Health Director.
He assured that his regional task force for CLTS, MDFTS, national leaders and all open defecation free communities will continue for such call to action while challenging other communities to emulate.
Mrs. Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Country Rep., thanked the government of the Gambia for being the first country on the continent to come up with such declaration on ending the practice of open defecation.
She explained that in May, 2015, the Gambia joined other African countries at the African sanitation conference in Dakar where ‘Ngor’ (Dignity) Declaration was signed by African ministers for sanitation and hygiene. She said the practice was discussed very timely as the nations are agreeing in the draft Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) that “by 2030 we must achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and to end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
Mrs. Nyanti said it is unfortunate today that over 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to improved sanitation and 1 billion people still defecate in the open. She added, “We need to change that reality and break the vicious cycle of disease and poverty.”
She congratulated the Gambia for great progress in reducing open defecation in the rural area to 4% and 2& nationally. He said the rate in some areas is however worrying citing the Central River Region and North Bank Region (NBR).
“Kuntaur: 13.6& and Jangjangbureh: 8.2% LGAs and Kerewan LGA: 4.4%. These regions also have the highest under than five years mortality and malnutrition rates, both of which are closely linked to poor sanitation,” UNICEF Country Rep. concluded.
Mr. Pa Ousman Jarju, the Minister of Environment, Parks & Wildlife and Water Resources, said sanitation is key to combating poverty and water related diseases. He said as part of the government’s dedication, his ministry is constructing 1000 latrines across the country and 50 latrines in certain institutions such as weekly markets locally called ‘lumo.’ He assured that they will ensure better and more water sanitation measures before 2017.
He noted that Dalagas community is free of open defecation, while calling on others to emulate. During a press briefing, Minister Jarju informed that there is no penalty attached in case one is found but called for behavioral change towards the matter for better living.
Mr. Omar Sey, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare, in the declaration statement, said his government’s declaration on ending open defecation is a call to action. He said the health ministry together with key partners and stakeholders has worked hard to establish a strategic development framework that is in consistent with vision 2020 as well as the national sanitation policy which is universal access to basic sanitation for all.
Minister Sey said “universal access means everyone and everywhere has access to safe hygienic toilet at home, schools, health facilities and public places which are the only way they can have a chance of eliminating and ending opening defecation.”
“In order for the impact to be achieved and gained registered to be sustained, on behalf of the President, I hereby declare that this country be opened defecated free by the end of 2016,” said the health minister.