World Toilet Day is something I usually mark every year by raising money at the Anglian Water WaterAid quiz. This year was a little different, as you can imagine. The theme of this year’s campaign was #It’sNoJoke – designed to use toilet humour to highlight that for the 2.5 billion people who still can’t access a safe toilet, it’s no laughing matter. And it certainly isn’t. In fact, this was the toughest day of the trip so far.
My previous blogs have been about what I have been getting up to on a daily basis to give you an idea of life in rural Uganda. This post is a short collection of my thoughts to date.
The things I have seen in the past two days have been upsetting, especially coming from a scientific water quality background in the UK water industry. Today the scale of the problem really dawned on me. Amuria district is the most improved district for construction of latrines, but from what we have seen, you wouldn’t believe that there is about 80% coverage. The school today had six latrines for 800 pupils! It was inspiring to meet the hygiene club, a group of young children who take responsibility for cleaning their facilities and teaching younger children about hygiene. Whilst chatting to the children, a young boy plucked up the courage to ask me if I was here to bring them soap. They are taught about the importance of hand washing with soap to prevent the spread of disease – but they have no soap to do this with. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for them to know what basics they need to keep healthy, but not have them. The latrine block they have and use was funded by WaterAid. There’s another latrine block, but this block requires ash to be poured down the latrine after each use. There is no ash at the school so the latrine block has never been used. More than being a waste of money, it’s incredibly unfair on the pupils who desperately want more latrines to have a new block sitting there which can’t be used.
Another tough part of the day was the visit to the health centre. We had a brief tour and the conditions were shocking. We all moan about the NHS, but in the UK when we go to a hospital we don’t have to sleep on the floor with the chickens. We saw the latrine block at the health centre, and I can honestly say these are the worst toilets I have ever seen. A heavily pregnant woman stood up to tell us about the conditions. She wanted us to understand that the latrines are full and they cannot empty them. They need to build a new block, but can’t, because there’s no money. This is just one the many problems compromising the health of some of the most vulnerable people in the Amuria district.
This rural area of Uganda and WaterAid have accomplished so much since the end of the war eight years ago. 2030 – the year by which WaterAid aim to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to clean water – is just 15 years away and there are still so many people without clean water and sanitation. It’s very clearly going to take a lot of hard work from all of us – the communities, governments, local partners, WaterAid and their supporters – to reach this goal.