World Water Day is celebrated today all over the world and the Solomon Islands state of water, sanitation and hygiene is also a cause for concern on this day.
It is a day for celebrating achievements in managing and supplying fresh water in our countries and a day for reflecting on the state of safe and clean water as a public good we all depend on for our lives.
Safe water is a serious issue for community health and child survival. Globally, it is estimated that 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases. 90 percent (1,800) of these deaths are directly linked to a combination of contaminated water supply, unsafe sanitation conditions, and inadequate hygiene practices.
One of the key contaminators of fresh water supply is the practice of open defecation. This is often because people lack sanitation and do not understand how open defecation impacts the health of their families and wellbeing of their communities by spreading disease. Sanitation means access to - and the use of functional - toilets or latrines that ensure privacy and dignity and are backed by sustained and collective hygiene behaviour change of the entire community, contributing to a healthy living environment for all.
Solomon Islands is off-track towards meeting Millennium Development Goal 7 for water and sanitation, which is to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” Though water supply coverage is increasing, sanitation coverage is not even keeping pace with population growth. Over half of people living in Honiara’s poorest communities defecate in the open and cannot access or do not use latrines or toilets. In rural areas the situation is even worse with 4 out of 5 people not having access to a safe toilet or latrine. In addition it is estimated that 70 percent of all schools in Solomon Islands do not offer students safe water supply, toilets, or hand washing facilities.
The consequences of the lack of sanitation in Solomon Islands are striking. According to World Health Organisation, a Solomon Islander dies almost every day from water, sanitation and hygiene related illness. A recent survey undertaken by World Vision further suggests that 1 out of 5 children under the age of five have had skin or eye infections in the previous two weeks due to poor hygiene practices and lack of access to safe clean water and sanitation facilities. Women and girls without access to proper and safe sanitation facilities face high risks of physical and sexual violence when collecting water, bathing, or defecating unprotected and in the open - a situation highlighted in 2011 by Amnesty International. On top of this poor household sanitation also creates the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which transmit malaria and dengue fever.
We can work together to change this and eliminate open defecation in the Solomon Islands by 2015. Ensuring sustainable sanitation for all can be made possible by nationally adopting new policies to support communities to appreciate the need for sanitation and to build their own household toilets or latrines together. Community approaches to sanitation are cost effective, increase community ownership, and ensure appreciation for WASH as an essential community good. Evidence from all over the world, including Solomon Islands, suggests that provision of toilets and latrines alone will not stop open defecation. Usage of toilets and latrines is highest where households first recognise the need for toilets or latrines. Accelerating and improving sanitation will ensure that the country meets MDG 7 by 2015 and also contribute to meeting other MDGs, particularly reduction of diarrhoea (MDG 6), improved maternal health (MDG 5), and reduced child mortality (MDG 4).
One of the most successful and globally recognised approaches to accelerate sanitation is Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which facilitates communities to appreciate the link between open defecation, faecal contamination of drinking water and food, and health impacts like diarrhoea and skin and eye infections. CLTS has already been used in 54 countries, benefitting over 20 million people who now live in open defecation-free communities across Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific. CLTS can facilitate communities in Solomon Islands to do the same.
This World Water Day, we greatly encourage that you start a discussion about water and sanitation in your community, and help each other stop open defecation and start climbing the sanitation ladder. In the meantime, you can protect your family’s health by only drinking safe water, wearing shoes or sandals, disposing safely of all faeces from your household, including from your infants and children, and always washing hands with soap. With open defecation currently widespread in Solomon Islands, these practices can save you and your loved ones from deadly illness and a costly visit to the doctor.
Source: Press Release, UNICEF, Solomon Islands