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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Sanitation heroes of the DRC

Community-led sanitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or CLTS in DRC for short, is one of the ways in which Tearfund is working with communities in this war-torn African country.

We heard from Monica Verhaege, Tearfund’s Public Health Advisor in the DRC, about the impact this is having on people's lives.

What’s the DRC like?
The DRC is only one country away from being the worst place on earth in terms of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living. The many-sided war that officially ceased in 2002 claimed over 4 million lives. Sadly, conflict between various armed groups and atrocities against civilians, especially women, continue.

People living in the regions most affected by these armed groups, for example in the Eastern regions of North and South Kivu, live with instability and uncertainty. Yet they are trying to rebuild their lives after the war and develop healthy communities.

Today, few people in DRC have access to basic services, including clean water and sanitation, which poses serious health risks. This is a country where most people don’t live to see their 50th birthday, and diarrhoea is the second biggest killer.

In 2010 Tearfund’s Disaster Management Team in the DRC launched its pilot CLTS scheme.

What exactly is CLTS?
Community-led total sanitation, or CLTS, is an approach to sanitation that involves the local community and enables them to address sanitation issues themselves. Local materials are used by local people to build their own latrines.

We might think that ‘real aid’ should be paying for and building latrines for communities. Although this might be well-meaning, communities benefit immeasurably more from approaches that empower and involve them than from handouts.

Tshoko, a village of 188 households in North Kivu, is a good example of the two different approaches.

Tshoko is in a chronically insecure area where there is constant rebel movement. A fear of having to flee into the bush combined with the fact that most villagers do not own the land they live on means that people are unwilling to invest in expensive infrastructure, like toilets.

An unused and overgrown
donated latrine slab
As a consequence the nearby fields were the village’s toilets and open defecation was the norm. Latrine slabs had been donated by NGOs in the past to help these villagers. However, with no accompanying health promotion or education, these slabs were left unused and half-buried by weeds.

After Tearfund’s CLTS training, it was as if the entire community experienced a hygiene epiphany. Community members realised they could not lead healthy lives without building latrines.

The community became excited about using the old, unused slabs to build their new latrines. People even walked long distances to areas that weren’t controlled by militias to find materials. They want their village to be a healthy place for their children to live in.  

After CLTS training this family in Tshoko reused an old slab to build their family latrine. 
Monica says: “I have observed a huge hygiene and sanitation awakening that is community driven and spreading like a wildfire across the region. I am inspired by communities that have been devastated by the conflict, but then are motivated to build their own latrines. The communities themselves are the true sanitation heroes in DRC.”

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