August 12, 2017 BY: Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
The smell of dirt and piles of garbage form part of the daily troubled experience of people living in the Magazine and Mabella communities. The scattering of garbage and human filth in these communities have become a familiar thing at this time and all other time.
Lack of proper toilet facility continues to be a major problem in most part of country, not least the capital city of Freetown. The influx of people from the provinces to the city has only helped to exacerbate the social problem. The slum communities are susceptible to lack of proper toilet facilities in the country. These slum communities most often than not have makeshift toilet facility, with little or no proper disposal facility in the environment, which affects the health and wellbeing of inhabitants. The reality is that, these toilets are cheap to construct while inhabitants empty the faeces and urine into the sea. The high cost of housing leaves poor and unemployed people, mostly from the rural communities, vulnerable to erect makeshift buildings as home for dwelling.
Adama Kamara is a resident in the Magazine Wharf community. She has lived almost all her entire life in the slum community. She lives in the seaside area between Mabella and Magazine slum community. She, like dozens of residents, uses a makeshift toilet facility, which her husband made for the family and neighbours in the slum areas.
“Living in the slum community is risky especially during the rainy season” she says.
Kamara confesses to sometimes being worried about the situation in the wharf community. She says that before this time there was not many people in the slum communities of Magazine and Mabella Community, but that by the end of war in 2001 the slum community saw an increase in the number of people living in the community. And an increase in inhabitants means more problems endemic to the Magazine wharf slums.
“We have no other means of toilet facility, it’s only these makeshift ones,” she says matter-of-factly. “Our children are diagnosed most times with stomach ache and diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases”.
“Our lives are at risk and we are asking the government and partners to help us build decent housing facilities and toilet facilities in our community,” she further appeals.
Her husband, Alusine Kamara, a grain grinder in the Mabella community market, was himself born and raised in this slum community and is accustomed to open defecation.
“If you want to use a proper and appreciable toilet facility, you have to go a place called showers, or down Mabella; you pay about two-thousand Leones which most people in the slum community cannot afford,” he narrates.
In these slum communities children are at risk of contracting water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and many others. They play in the open areas where the water has either dried or is polluted. These children do not wash their hands after playing and using the open defecation toilet facility and most times complain of stomach ache.
According to UNICEF, in 2013 more than 340,000 children under-five died from diarrhoeal diseases due to lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene – an average of almost 1,000 deaths per day.
In addition to this, about 2.4 Billion people do not use improved sanitation and 663 million do not have access to improved water sources.
This report by UNICEF indicates that children are most vulnerable as they lack knowledge and ability to take care of themselves whenever they use the toilet and after playing with dirt.
This situation becomes critical during the rainy season as most children and young people do not wash their hands after defecating, putting their lives at risk.
Hand washing, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), prevents diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and many other water borne diseases.
In 2012, the country experienced the worst cholera outbreak in history which left 229 people dead and many more hospitalised, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The government launched the Presidential Delivery Team for post-Ebola recovery, targeting different areas in enabling a healthier and safer environment in the country. There has been cleaning exercises in different communities accross the capital city of Freetown and its environs. The presidential delivery team has set up local groups to collect garbage from local communities and in return ask locals to pay a meagre sum for disposing the garbage.
Councillor representing the Magazine and Mabella Communities, Abu Asif Kamara, says that his community’s health and environmental problems are real and that he has brought the concerns of residents to the government and non-governmental organisations.
“I have brought this concern to the NGOs and they have really helped the community in fighting some of these problems,” Councillor Kamara reveals, identifying interventions by the Freetown City Council, GOAL SL, Concern World Wide as laudable. He says the ward has community health workers, blue flag volunteers that are supported by Concern World Wide.
He advised residents to keep their homes clean, dispose their garbage properly, especially when there are a team of people working to clean the environment in the slum communities.
Public Relations Officer of the Freetown City Council, Cyril Mattia, in an interview with Concord Times, claims that the municipal council has constructed lots of public toilets across the sprawling capital.
“In fact in the first place we are not building public toilets for community people, it’s for the public,” he says and adds that members of slum communities, especially those that do not have access to toilets in their homes, can use them.
“When Ebola struck and during the Cholera Outbreak in 2012 and 2014 respectively the sea side settlements of Magazine and Marbella were the most affected communities,” notes, without conceding that inhabitants have poor sanitary facility.
Despite the best efforts of non-governmental organisations to complement the Freetown City Council in building more public toilets, challenges still abound.
Accordingly, the Freetown City Council needs more funding allocation to help in alleviating the problem of good toilet facility, especially in the slum communities of Marbella and Magazine Wharf Community.
Though the government, through the Freetown City Council, has been building public toilets, the slum communities need more toilet facility as hundreds of people are living in these communities.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were enunciated in 2016, are very stout towards achieving a healthier and peaceful environment in the world. Goals three and six of the SDGs speak to good health and wellbeing, clean water and sanitation respectively to be achieved by all countries by 2030. The Inter-governmental Open Working Group on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) have recommended that the new goals include a target of achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation by 2030. This is a step in the right direction and Sierra Leone should work with development partners to harness more resources for the provision of proper toilet facility across the country.
Though Sierra Leone is still struggling to rebuild her water and sanitation systems, more than a decade after the civil war, it is hopes that gains made by the Presidential Delivery Team on post-Ebola Recovery and the presence of WASHNET would help alleviate the problems of hygiene and sanitation in these slum communities and the country as a whole.