Safe Sanitation Impact: A Rural Community Celebrates Becoming ‘Open Defecation Free’

Atuntun Village, Ngaremara Ward of Isiolo County, Kenya – The small community of Atuntun in central Kenya is the latest in the Millennium Water Alliance’s Kenya Arid Lands Disaster Risk Reduction (KALDRR) program to join the growing number declared “”open defecation free,” an important water and sanitation milestone in in the region.

Local residents celebrated with representatives of Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), MWA-member Food for the Hungry, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on August 25.

Latrine coverage in Isiolo County is now at 48%, according to the Ministry of Health. Isiolo County is aiming at increasing the coverage through its own budget and assistance from the other stakeholders of WASH. The fact that the county has a pastoralist community – meaning people are here today but gone tomorrow – complicates attaining latrine coverage and being open defecation free (ODF).

The county is advocating for ODF to all 336 villages in Isiolo County. Two hundred villages have been targeted for ODF, 40 are reported as attaining ODF, and three have been verified. They noted that the verification process is slow for lack of trained staff and the county plans to set up its own verification team and have local certifiers to fasten the ODF verification and certification process. Proper training is needed to achieve this.

The county intends to have the remaining 160 villages that were “triggered” to reach ODF by the end of the year. It was noted that a triggered village causes a ripple effect to the neighboring village, helping to advance ODF status.

Isiolo County has prioritized WASH issues to curb maternal deaths, which have been high in this county. To tackle a “chronic shortage of staff at health centers,” the county government is looking into setting up a medical training institute to train health personnel to cover various health facilities.

Being a water-scarce county, three-fourths of the households are not connected to any water facility. And even though Ngaremara Ward covers 200 square kilometers, it only has four water points in total, of which the water point in Atuntun village does not give enough water to meet all needs (both domestic and for food production). Complicating the work, the water salinity in Isiolo County can cause erosion to equipment, presenting another challenge to implementers.

A community member testified to the impact of community-led total sanitation (CLTS) on her household. She noted that they had come from very far from a time when they had no latrines, to all 108 households in Atuntun Village now owning a latrine. In the three households that the that the team members visited for the celebration, the levels of hygiene were high and the members of the specific household were happy and proud of what they had achieved. In each of the three households, there was a dish rack, a clothes-hanging line, a compost pit, and a latrine with a handwashing facility.

Residents explained how the process of constructing all this – especially the latrine – was a collective responsibility of the family members. They had picked the trees from the bushes and forest and step by step they built their latrines. Latrines were built of either wood or mud with roofs that were made of straw grass, cloth or a combination. There was some difference in quality to be seen, but one has to keep in mind that before most people did not have any latrine at all.

Residents also noted the following results from improved sanitation:

  • They have come to appreciate the need for good hygiene and sanitation as their children fall sick less often than before.
  • They are able to save more since the money that was used to seek treatment is now being used in other ways to improve their families.

Safe Sanitation Impact


FH Country Director Markus Takkunen and CEC Health Isiolo County Minister Hon. Patrick Lesengei unveil the ODF Billboard.

The Atuntun Village urged Food for the Hungry and MWA to provide more boreholes in the village or pipe the water from the one borehole they have so that the people further from the borehole can have water access. One of the community health workers also noted a need for continuous monitoring of the CLTS so as to maintain the set standards and to continue giving information on the need for good hygiene and sanitation.

Health Minister The Hon. Patrick Lesengei thanked USAID, Food for the Hungry and MWA for their continuous support on WASH-related initiatives in the county. He noted that his Ministry is developing a strategic Health Policy and that will seek to address various challenges in the Health sector.

He also thanked the Atuntun Community for accepting and embracing this change. The Minister said that he seeks to replicate this model to all other villages in Isiolo County.

From field report by Senan Kanana and Tabitha Gerrets, MWA-Kenya Program, Aug 25, 2014.

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