Do we take a moment and find out where our ‘shit’ goes when we flush or use a latrine, whether at home, workplaces or even public toilets? Do we know how our shit is contained or treated? If we are not concerned about these seemingly simple facts, our attitude can be likened to that of people practicing open defecation, who either lack knowledge or ignore the health and environmental burdens caused by mismanaged faecal sludge. In Kenya for instance, the word ‘shit’ in local languages is treated as a ‘taboo’ and in most cases used as a vulgar word.
A geospatial analysis of Kericho County in Kenya generated from a case control study on ‘Effects of Poor sanitation’ by SNV and IEA-Kenya revealed that areas such as Ainamoi had high latrine coverage and high diarrhea prevalence. These findings suggest low utilization of sanitation facilities and cultural barriers. Such evidence threatens’ achievement and sustainability of ODF status, and isolates the centrality of community beliefs and culture that impede good sanitation practices.
We also take cognizant of the importance of access to safe water which is directly related to sanitation. Findings from the aforementioned study also revealed that all public water sources whose samples were collected and tested contained high levels of E.Coli-(human shit) and were classified as highly contaminated and unsuitable for human consumption. In addition, one in every two caregivers who participated in the study did not treat water at the point of use. These poor water related and other hygiene practices such as lack of hand washing practice with soap at the five critical times and disposal of child feaces among others, explained the high morbidity rate of children below five years that visited health facilities for treatment of diarrhea diseases. Moreover, nearly half of the respondents interviewed reported not having been exposed to any sanitation message for the last six months from the time of data collection.
Not to discredit the various approaches that are in use to achieve Open Defecation Free status, access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation; but to realize these targets, more efforts need to be directed to creating platforms for public debates on sanitation that involve policy makers and other duty bearers and probe community conversation on this considered ‘disgusting issue’.
One of the benefits of de-stigmatization from shit would be appreciation and demand creation of products manufactured from ‘shit’- an example of Nakuru Water and Sanitation Company (NAWASCO) that is producing briquettes for sale from excreta. The communities need to shift their mentality from disgust to accountability of fecal sludge management and other hygiene practices. Attempts to demystify ‘shit’ management and good WASH practice, would expand local innovations along the sanitation value chain and increase demand for ecofriendly products produced from ‘shit’.
The global conversations on sanitation have mostly emphasized the need to increase access to latrines especially in the rural areas where coverage is low. In accelerating efforts towards achieving UN targets of Global Open Defecation Free status by 2025, sanitation approaches need to give more attention to prevailing community attitudes and practices that slow demand for sanitation by communities and lack of prioritization of sanitation investment by duty bearers hailing from these communities. If the community is not empowered enough to acknowledge and demand for their sanitation right, party manifestos and investment plans might never prioritize sanitation. As these conversations continue, top on the agenda should be mechanisms and campaigns aimed at causing a shift in beliefs and practices that impair good water, sanitation and hygiene practices.