Sanitation and hygiene gaps grow in Madagascar; so do inequalities

Story
Barely surviving with the little money she earns from selling recycled items, a 30-year-old single mother in Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo is prioritizing to put food on the table for her children.
By
Hoby Randrianimanana
Woman standing in front of a garbage collection site in Madagascar

Deserted by her husband seven years ago, Ms Raharimalala Voahangilalao has been raising her two daughters by herself and works as a waste picker in the city’s landfill.

“Despite getting dirty in my work, I usually don’t wash when I get home, and sometimes I go several days like that. I use the little water I can afford to buy for cooking and for washing my daughters,” she says.

Ms Voahangilalao acknowledges that she can fetch water for free from rice fields located a mile away from her home, but since she has to work long hours at the landfill she cannot go to the rice fields every day.

“But when it happens, I try to get as much water as I can carry. I also do my laundry, take a shower and do my woman needs there because we don’t have a space for that at home,” she says.

Ms Voahangilalao is not the only person that has no access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation services in Madagascar. 4 out of 5 Malagasy people drink water contaminated with E. Coli, that is to say fecal matter, according to a recent report by UNICEF.

The survey further reveals that access to WASH services in Madagascar has been decreasing in recent years, despite efforts to extend services to more communities. Access to safe drinking water fell from 54 percent in 2017 to a mere 41 percent in 2018, while access to basic sanitation services decreased from 10 percent of the population in 2017 to only 6 percent in 2018.

This reduction in services has only served to widen existing inequalities. In 2017, 17 percent of the urban population and 6 percent of rural communities had access to basic sanitation services; by 2018, those numbers fell to 15 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

The gap grew even wider in terms of hygiene. Whereas 69 percent of urban areas and 38 percent of rural areas had access to basic hygiene services in 2017, coverage was only 38 percent and 18 percent, respectively, in 2018.

These inequalities in access to WASH services have had a greater impact on women and girls in Madagascar, due primarily to economic hardship and lingering socio-cultural practices.

Furthermore, the UNICEF cluster survey indicates that in Madagascar, 63 percent of women over 15 years old are responsible for fetching water for their households. But this does not mean they are the primary users. Some local women even fetch water for money, not for personal use.

Woman in Madagascar holding her child

Ms Tahirinirina Fiononana, a 26-year-old mother of three, makes a living by selling recycled bottles and fetching water for households in her neighborhood. But despite handling water almost every day, she and her family struggle to have water for their own use in their makeshift cardboard house.

“We cannot afford to buy water for everyday use, so we don’t cook nor do we wash at home (…) and having no toilet, we also do our needs outside,” says Ms Fiononana.  

“When I have a little bit of money, I go to a public shower room for my woman needs. If not, I just do it in places where there aren’t a lot of people around.”

Sanitation professionals explain that inequalities are exacerbated because many women and girls in Madagascar are not permitted to participate in the decision-making process relating to their own sanitation and hygiene.

“In many rural communities, women and girls are not allowed to participate in discussions about sanitation and hygiene. They are usually seated far behind men or in a separate location during such events,” says Mr Patrick Randrianantenaina, who serves as Project Chief for Service pour la population de Madagascar, an implementing agency for Fonds d’Appui pour l’Assainissement (FAA), a WSSCC partner.

He described as an example a young woman who wanted to volunteer as a sanitation committee leader but faced harsh disapproval from her father.

“As a result, we often don’t get to hear their voices [of girls and women] on issues affecting them personally,” he said.

To address this gap, Mr Randrianatenaina reveals, his team organized a separate session for women and girls in Ambalamahitsy, with the community elders’ permission, to get the young woman’s and other female members’ views and suggestions on sanitation and hygiene improvement in their community.

Dr Rija Fanomeza, FAA Program Manager, explains that efforts to bridge gaps in WASH inequalities in Madagascar using one-size-fits-all approaches have proven ineffective in the past.

“That’s why we have come up with flexible, context-specific approaches to work around and break into existing socio-cultural structures in a more subtle way,” he says.