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February 25, 2021

Raising awareness for WASH access to pursue economic growth, productivity

Business

February 25, 2021

HYDERABAD: The hilly area of Kohistan in Sindh is unique for being in close proximity to the seaport, main highways and two major cities of Sindh-- Karachi and Hyderabad. But access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) always remains a challenge for the population living in the hilly area.

Majority of the population is in dire need of safer and hygienic living conditions, which are essential for reducing deaths and improving the overall environment.

Kohistan’s village families often face persistent drought, dryness and shrinking underground water resources.

Community activists believe that previously wells were the main sources of getting water for their domestic needs as well as for animals. These rainy waterways used to recharge underground water level during the monsoon seasons.

Shahar Bano Palari, a young vocal activist of Union Council Dhamach, near Thano Bula Khan, Jamshoro district, sharing her observations said that due to uncertain rainfall, underground water level either has dropped deep or been contaminated.

“Therefore, mostly these traditional water facilities are no more functional, because water seems unfit for human consumption,” she added.

The people have detected arsenic and other chemical elements in underground water through testing and wanted to rehabilitate the same or have alternative sources.

The communities have got piped water through government-laid water supply lines, but it is unable to meet the demand of all families living scattered in the village.

Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), a community support organisation, has provided the extra water facilities, focusing on reducing water-borne diseases and improving food diversity through disaster-resilient wash infrastructure in the areas.

In the understanding of Shahar Bano, besides safe drinking water, they were also motivating community people in the village to build latrines on self-help basis to avoid health problems, as open defecation remained a real threat to human health.

Studying in the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, Shahar Bano justifies that access to water and sanitation in rural areas could reduce the health expenses of families. Therefore, the community women, especially student cadre belonging to remote hilly villages wanted to promote good hygiene habits through education.

“Because, increasing awareness among the village women may help their respective families to face emerging challenges, specifically water-borne and sanitation-related health problems,” she added.

Following this, the people have constructed 9,355 toilets on self-help basis in the district. The women-led village organisations (VOs) have declared 160 latrines, considering the same as per guidance to stop open defecation. Besides this, the district ODF committee has certified six toilets constructed by communities on self-help basis.

Rani Khaskheli, another woman activist belonging to Union Council Mohandar in Kohistan, said previously there was no concept of building toilets at homes in the hilly area. The women did not have any option other than moving to open fields, wild bushes, waterways and open trenches for defecation.

“We have been living in such circumstances through generations where social and health needs of women and girls were never met,” she said.

The United Nations set 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) in which sanitation is amongst the 6th to achieve access to adequate and equitable facilities to end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situation.

The community activists claim to have produced success stories within the localities despite facing difficulties in the way to bring change in behaviour. It was possible because they preferred to ensure community women participation in the process.

The nominated team members go round the community to check if all the latrines have been completed, and being used and well maintained. Hand washing materials are available in or near the facilities.

Dr Allahnawaz Samoon, leading TRDP, said their efforts to achieve this goal transcend beyond the conventional approach of construction of latrines. “We endeavour on bringing about a behavioural change in the communities for taking some critical actions,” he said.

“Together with the rural communities, we intend to ensure all households have access to, and use, maintain and repair latrines, maintain safe hygiene practices and keep their surroundings free from waste water and garbage,” he said.

He said they also ensure that groundwater was not contaminated by leachate from septic tanks or improper disposal of faecal sludge. This kind of collective behaviour creates demand for constructing hygiene facilities and every household keeps provision for it in their routine expenses.

“Setting a benchmark, in a short spell of one year we have succeeded in mobilising thousands of households to declare their villages and union councils 'open-defecation-free', and intend to scale up this practice,” he said.

Reports reveal that sustainable management of water resources and access to safe drinking water and sanitation are essential for unlocking economic growth and productivity, while providing significant leverage for existing investments in health and education.