Tinomuda Chakanyuka, Senior Reporter
MORE than half of households in Matabeleland North Province are still using the bush to relieve themselves as most homes do not have toilets, a trend that has continued in most districts of the province over the years.
According to the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) rural livelihoods assessment report, 55 percent of households in Matabeleland North use the bush system. The report shows that most districts in the province recorded the highest prevalence of using the bush system ranging from 56 to 75 percent. This is almost more than twice the national average of 30 percent. However, the bush system prevalence has decreased by about one percent from estimates in the 2012 National Census report by the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency (ZimStat).
The ZimVac report also shows Matabeleland North having the lowest proportion of households with access to improved sanitation (42 percent).
Nationally, the proportion of households which accessed improved sanitation facilities was estimated at 61 percent. Manicaland Province has the lowest people using the bush with most districts in the province recording occurrence rates ranging between 0,5 to 16 percent.
Matabeleland North provincial medical director (PMD) Dr Nyasha Masuka described the province’s high open defecation prevalence as unfortunate.
Dr Masuka said a number of villagers had been allowed to settle without having proper ablution facilities at their homesteads, thereby creating a challenge of using the bush in the province. He also highlighted the costs of building toilets as one of the factors constraining villagers in the province from building toilets.
“It’s unfortunate. I think the problem stems from allowing settlements to be established without toilets having been built first.
“You also have the cost issue. Most households can’t afford building toilets. However, it should be noted that the risk factors associated with not having a toilet far outweigh the cost of building a toilet,” he said.
Dr Masuka said concerted efforts were being made to improve the province’s water and sanitation situation. He said the Government was targeting traditional leaders to spearhead the construction of toilets at every household in the province.
“We have set up community health groups to spearhead the improvement of the province’s sanitation coverage.
“We are targeting traditional leaders and ensure that they take a leading role. We feel that if a community leader does not have a toilet, it makes it difficult for other members of the community to build toilets. If traditional leaders have toilets at their homesteads then the rest of the community will follow suit,” he said.
Dr Masuka said each village in the province had been given a target of the number of toilets that should be built in the next five years. He was, however, not in a position to share the targets off hand as he was not in the office at the time of the interview.
Dr Masuka also called for proper co-ordination between State agencies and non-State actors to ensure efficiency in improving the province’s sanitation situation.
Development expert Mr Enoch Musara pointed out poverty and lack of adequate health education as some of the factors leading to high prevalence of using the bush. Mr Musara noted that in some provinces, using the bush may have been increased in recent times due to natural disasters such as rains.
Matabeleland North is one of the provinces in the country that was hardest hit by Cyclone Dineo in the past rainy season, which saw over 800 villagers in Tsholotsho being displaced.
“The main issue is lack of health education. People, particularly in rural areas don’t appreciate the importance of toilets hence they need to be educated first.
“Another factor is poverty. Majority of rural dwellers can’t afford building toilets. In some cases, houses including toilets were destroyed by floods and that might have contributed to high defecation prevalence in some areas in recent time,” he said.
Mr Musara concurred with Dr Masuka on the need to increase awareness and health education in communities.
He also called on the Government to collaborate with non-State actors in assisting villagers build toilets, particularly in areas where there is high poverty prevalence.
“Communities need to be educated. Let’s have Environmental Health Technicians (EHTs) routinely inspect households as well as educate villagers on the importance of building toilets,” he said.
In 2010, a World Bank expert on water and sanitation Mr Piers Cross declared Zimbabwe the worst country at open air defecation, only rivalled by Libya and the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC).
A 2013 report by the Human Rights Watch stated that poor sanitation practices like open defecation, lack of water for hand washing lead to outbreaks of water-borne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid.