By Hoby Randrianimanana
MIARY LAMATIHY, Madagascar – In a rural commune of Madagascar, villages that have once ended the practice of defecating in the open are now facing a major difficulty sustaining their open defecation free status. That is all because of a precious stone that was found in this region: Sapphire.
While the region is booming with the frenzied influx of sapphire miners, community leaders and sanitation practitioners are scrambling to step up their effort to put a full stop to open defecation and slippage, a word regularly used by sanitation professionals when an open defecation free (ODF) village goes back to unhygienic behavior.
But in the rural commune of Miary Lamatihy, located 800 kilometers southwest of the Malagasy capital Antananarivo, the coexistence of the new-found business opportunity, migration and sanitation behavior remains a challenge.
“Since the discovery of sapphire here early this year, there has been a wave of migration in the commune,” said Mr Albert Tsimondy, a community officer for the Service pour la Population de Madagascar, one of the implementing partners supported by WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund.
Mr Tsimondy said that when working in communities, they often see people moving in and out, sometimes in just a few days interval.
“We usually have people that we have ‘triggered’ migrating to new locations while new people are coming in. When that happens, we have to start our ‘triggering’ activities from square one,” he said.
Sanitation partners like the Service pour la Population de Madagascar have been taking a “community-led” approach to making rural villages free from open defecation. That includes a sensitization initiative, known as “triggering.”
As part of the triggering activity, well-trained facilitators pay a visit to villages and encourage local people to come to their realization that the open defecation practice is causing them to ingest their own feces, prompting them to improve their sanitation behaviors.
Mr Randrianirina Victor Noel, Mayor of Miary Lamatihy, has been raising a serious concern over sapphire mining as the activity has been jeopardizing sanitation progress achieved in his commune.
Walking along the side of the only road that leads to the commune, Mayor Randrianirina points out feces scattered across on the ground. Not far from the fecal matter stand blue signposts that ironically read “No defecation and dumping on roadsides. Fine: 20,000 Ariary (or six US dollars).”
“We just started seeing some of our communities turning open defecation free, and as you can see from the blue signposts, we have made progress in reducing the practice of open defecation in the chef lieu de commune, formerly abounding with open defecation spots. But then the sapphire rush happened, and our efforts were all ruined,” the mayor said.
The commune as a whole has not yet reached the ODF status mainly because of the slippage occurring in areas with high numbers of migrants.
According to data collected from the mayor’s office, those areas include the ‘chef lieu de commune,’ which means the busy part of the commune where the market, bus station, school, and the mayor’s office are located, and some nearby “fokontany (commune subdivision).”
The data indicates that the chef lieu de commune has received 925 sapphire miners between January and mid-November 2019. This number accounts for about 40 percent of the total population currently living in the chef lieu de commune, which is 2,360.
Confirming the mayor’s claim, Mr Tsimondy said if there wasn’t this migration issue, they would have turned Miary Lamatihy ODF by the end of this year.
“Some of the miners come and squat in people’s lands, do their business and then leave. It’s hard to manage the miners as they come from different regions, cultures, and ways of life,” Mayor Randrianirina said.
Alarmed by the growing slippage, Mayor Randrianirina convened an urgent meeting on 4 November with local stakeholders, including chiefs of fokontany, village elders, school teachers, and health workers. They came together to discuss a solution and improve the status quo.
“During the meeting, convinced stakeholders agreed to set a goal to turn the entire commune ODF by January 2020,” Mayor Randrianirina said.
Ms Pelakoa Sabine, a midwife in the health center CSB II of Miary Lamatihy said she would reach out to the new settlers in her weekly workshop and address the need to use latrines to fight against diarrheal diseases.
“I will explain the danger of open defecation with posters showcasing different fecal-oral transmission routes,” she said.
Ms. Pelakoa also said she plans to visit households in her community to encourage families who are not using latrines to build ones and reward those who already did.
To accelerate support to achieve the January 2020 target, Mr Rasolo Bruno, chief of Ambahimalitsy Fokontany, said he will organize follow-up activities among his constituents. Mr. Rasolo also agreed to establish a set of sanitation rules in the Fokontany and will appoint follow-up groups to ensure those rules are respected.
Mr Pascal Realy, a community leader from the ODF village of Mitsinjo, said he plans to visit neighboring villages to show people the benefits of using latrines. He said he will use his position as an “ombiasa (shaman)” to try to influence behavioral change among his neighbors.
Mayor Randrianirina plans to bring together all the miners and carry out “triggering” activities. He will also call on young people in his own Fokontany to volunteer to clean open defecation spots and dig pits for latrines for those unable to build ones.
To keep the momentum and address this precarious situation that could potentially jeopardize the commune’s achievements so far, the mayor also requested for support from WSSCC’s executing agency and implementing partners to continue their triggering sessions in this region.
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