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By Steven Kamponda
On 5, 6 and 7 October, three Traditional Authorities (TAs)* – Malengachanzi, Chanthunya and Sawali respectively – celebrated their ODF achievement. These ODF TAs have been supported by the Accelerated Sanitation and Hygiene Practices Programme (ASHPP), managed by Plan International Malawi and funded by the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF). The events, courtesy of two implementing partners – Hygiene Village Project and Training Support for Partners – bring the tally to 8 TAs against the programme’s target of 31 before June 2017.
The celebrations, which reflect the current ODF momentum in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in the country, carried a message that demands sanitation for all. This message emphasizes that no citizen of Malawi should be left behind and the country should not be left out of the global community.
All the celebrations were led by the Minister of Health, Dr. Peter Kumpalume. However, the most marquee event was the celebration at Sawali in which the Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Dr. Chris Williams was present along with the Country Director of Plan International Malawi and other high profile officials from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
All celebrations attracted massive crowds from the communities as well as excellent representation from WASH partners and government officials at the district level.
Another female achiever
The celebration of TA Sawali in Balaka was not only remarkable for the sole reason that it was witnessed by high-profile visitors: it is also a female-led area from which the First Lady, the country’s first sanitation champion, comes.
For ASHPP, it means that two female leaders have now successfully led their people to acceptable levels of sanitation, and this is remarkable. The first one was TA Kaduya from Phalombe District, whose area was certified ODF in April this year.
In her speech, TA Sawali highlighted the great contributions made by her village heads, and extension workers. She also expressed how she is looking forward to getting all households in her area to climb the sanitation ladder by acquiring improved sanitary facilities that will not collapse during rainy seasons due to heavy rainfall.
Strong community engagement key
Of all the lessons that could be learned from these three ODF success stories, especially by community leaders, it is the importance of bringing the community to work together to achieve improved sanitation and hygiene.
In their speeches, all the TA* narrated how they got their communities to become ODF. Coordination at various levels – from village, to group village, to the TA level – was key.
“I sat down with my fellow chiefs, the DCT [District Coordinating Team] and ADC [Area Development Committee] and we talked about our sanitation. We agreed to ensure that our land has latrines so that we live a healthy life. Thereafter, I followed up with all the villages until we reached this far.
“It was a challenging experience but we managed to achieve,” said Senior Chief Malengachanzi of Nkhotakota District.
We can achieve national ODF
With concerted efforts, Malawi could indeed become ODF. The passion from the communities is there and the atmosphere is right. The urgency from partners is growing and certainly, more attention is being paid by government at various levels.
The Government of Malawi, WSSCC, Plan International Malawi and many other major partners, seem to firmly hold the belief that the country has the potential to be entirely ODF very soon.
Speaking at Chanthunya, Plan International Malawi Country Director, Ms. Lilly Omondi, reiterated her strong belief that Balaka can and will achieve district ODF if it continues with its impressive progress, which could further influence more district ODF achievements and eventually national ODF.
“Malawi is one of the countries that could be the first African country to become ODF. It is possible; we just have to give it that final push. It’s very, very possible,” said Ms. Omondi.
Beyond the Ministry of Health
Having the desire to attain national ODF is one thing, and putting plans and strategies to really get you there is a different thing altogether. This was a warning from the WSSCC Executive Director, Dr. Chris Williams.
In his view, for Malawi to achieve national ODF it will take more than the efforts made by the Ministry of Health.
“The Ministry of Health can lead the way as it is doing and showing every day, but it must have full support from government. It has to be a whole government approach, not only one ministry.
“Ultimately, it will require the leadership of the President and the First Lady. I am happy to say that the First Lady is already a champion of this issue and I think that her support will be crucial,” said Dr. Williams.
Clean water for first ODF district
National ODF will start with one district attaining ODF. As such, the Minister of Health challenged Balaka District to become the first to achieve this and win a ‘life changing reward’:
“Today I have made further announcement that much as it is good to certify at TA level, we are also setting up a competition where we want to find a district in the country that will be the first to truly acquire an ODF status.
“That’s what we want this country to achieve. The first district will receive a prize that will transform the fortunes of the people in the area.
“It [the prize] will be something to do with water. What we need to check is the amount of money and the numbers of beneficiaries in the district,” said Dr. Kumpalume.
Nationally, out of 263 TAs, 20 have attained ODF so far, 8 of which are through financial and technical support from the GSF-supported programme. The 8 TAs are: Chapinduka (Rumphi District), Malengachanzi and Mwadzama (Nkhotakota District), Amidu, Sawali and Chanthunya (Balaka District), Kaduya (Phalombe District), and Mulilima (Chikwawa District). Currently, the overall ODF status for the 31 TAs within which the GSF-supported programme is being implemented is around 73 percent.
* ’Traditional Authority’ is the name used for a type of administrative unit in Malawi, as well as the head of this unit.