Tag Archives: sanitation

A story on every corner

My first full-time gig as a reporter was a wonderful summer in a small city in eastern Canada. Fredericton is the capital of New Brunswick. It’s home to the provincial legislative assembly and two universities. The problem for news-gatherers is that those three institutions are effectively in hibernation for the summer months. Between May and September, there isn’t much in the way of sensational news in Fredericton. I remember a day where the cameraman and I drove around looking for news. After a few hours of searching, we did a story about a small rise in the number of visitors to a provincial park.

The JHR team and bike drivers on the way to Yeliboya Island.

Developed countries like Canada can be referred to as “developed”, because not much happens. Citizens are safe, healthy, secure and, for the most part, have their human rights respected. Here in Sierra Leone that is not the case. Before I came here, a former JHR trainer told me that “there is a story on every corner.” I think of that phrase almost every day.

Kambia town is just a few kilometres from the Guinean border

Kambia town is just a few kilometres from the Guinean border

For the last reporting trip of my time in Sierra Leone, we decided to head north to Kambia District to see what sort of stories we could find. I mentored two journalists from Africa Young Voices Radio, with help from JHR Local Trainer Kevin Lamdo and Kambia journalist Gibril Gottor (recently-crowned Male Media Professional of the Year). Our plan was to do two stories.

We started with a story on unsafe abortion. Abortion is illegal in almost all cases in Sierra Leone. The current legislation dates back to 1861. A recent report showed that, in 2011, 1,622 women went to hospital as a result of the effects of illegal abortions. It estimates that almost 2% of abortions resulted in the mother’s death. We spoke to a community doctor, nurses, a pastor, and after some searching we finally a woman who said she had had an abortion, performed illegally in a local hospital. Story #1.

Gibril Gottor. Sierra Leone's Male Media Professional of the Year. The border police don't like him much.

Gibril Gottor. Sierra Leone’s Male Media Professional of the Year. The border police don’t like him much.

Hanging toilets on Yeliboya Island drop waste straight into the river

Hanging toilets on Yeliboya Island drop waste straight into the river.

On the way to Yeliboya, we had stopped at the village of Kychom to hire our boat. While waiting, we noticed hundreds of empty water packets sitting in the sun. These ubiquitous 500ml bags of water are the cheapest way to get purified drinking water. The packets litter the streets and clog-up drains across the country, contributing to sewers flooding the streets in rainy season. AYV reporter Princetta Williams asked about the packets. A woman told her she was drying them to send them north to Guinea for recycling. Recycling programmes are almost unknown in Sierra Leone. Story #3.

Water packets drying in the sun at Kychom, Kambia District

Water packets drying in the sun at Kychom, Kambia District

When we got back to Kambia town we noticed new sets of clean water taps around the town. They were all installed with the help of the Japanese government in February. But they had all been turned off for the past month. It turned out that very few local home-owners were paying the monthly fee of Le15,000 ($3.50). The local water company engineer said that all he needed was $50 of fuel per day, to pump the water and restore supply. He also said the Ministry of Water was supposed to inject $17,500 into the project in February. The money came two months late, and was only $9,300 – enough to pay-off some of the fuel debts. In the past month, locals have been going to old water sources that are no longer chlorinated. Story #4.

Africa Young Voices Journalist Diana Coker checks the closed taps in Kambia

Africa Young Voices Journalist Diana Coker checks the closed taps in Kambia

On our second evening in Kambia, we decided to head north to the Guinean border. After a colourful exchange with border police (Gibril said they don’t like him very much), we were allowed to walk into Guinea. The border is protected by four rope barriers. But just off to the side is a modern border complex, with barriers, offices and an inspection zone. It was closed. We wandered across. A sign highlighted the grand opening of the Joint Customs Border Post on June 2nd – just days away, I thought. I read it again, June 2nd… 2012. The project was funded by the National Revenue Agency and has sat empty for a year. Story #5.

Nothing seems to surprise Sierra Leonean journalists. Almost everything still surprises me here. When I leave Sierra Leone this month, I will miss it desperately. I fear that life will be too boring back in the developed world. The thing is, so many Sierra Leoneans long for the day when life here is as quite, as healthy and as uneventful as places like Fredericton.

The one-year-old Joint Customs Border Post has not yet been used

The one-year-old Joint Customs Border Post has not yet been used

 

Home Again

I follow Edwina Thomas through the tight alleys of Kroo Bay in Freetown. This is one of the city’s most deprived areas. Thousands of metal shacks, built beside open latrines. Mothers washing and cooking. Teenagers sitting around. Kids running, everywhere.

We’re here to do a story on sanitation. Cholera and malaria are major problems in Kroo Bay, especially come the rainy season in May. This is Edwina’s first morning working as a news journalist. She consults me on questions to ask. I consult her on everything else.

Kroo Bay Community Secretary General Samuel Cox-Koroma explains the area's sanitation problems

Kroo Bay Community Secretary General Samuel Cox-Koroma explains the area’s sanitation problems

Edwina recently returned to Freetown from the U.K., after living there for eight years. She now sports a distinct twang when speaking English – a young, urban London accent. But when speaking Krio – Sierra Leone’s Creole, spoken by almost everyone – she’s still all-Freetown.

Edwina’s older sister moved to England 30 years ago. She brought Edwina over after the end of the civil war. A fresh start after witnessing the worst of humanity.

“Mr. Lansana owned the garage in my neighbourhood. They shot him and all the people that were hiding with him in a basement,” she says. It’s hard to imagine the effect that would have on a teenage girl. But Edwina just sighs when talking about it now. “My friend was raped, but she looks good now. She’s married.”

Her excitement at leaving was soon tempered by the challenges of life in a metropolis like London. “It was not what I had thought. It was hard. It was expensive.” Her fees were equivalent to a lifetime’s earnings for an average person in Sierra Leone. Edwina paid her way, with a part-time job in Marks & Spencer.

Red tape forced a two-year gap in her studies, and she even spent time working in Scotland. Edwina eventually got her Advanced Diploma in Business Management, only to be faced with a brick wall. New visa rules for international students meant she couldn’t stay to study for a degree, and the diploma wouldn’t cut it in the U.K.’s competitive job market. It was time to go home.

Edwina started with an internship at the Social Security offices in Freetown, but when it ended she had to keep an open mind on her next move.

Her passion is singing and song-writing  One of her songs was recently used in a movie here. A newspaper ad for a job at Skyy Radio caught her eye. The station will soon relaunch as the country’s first women’s radio station.

A pig looks for food in a Kroo Bay latrine

A pig looks for food in a Kroo Bay latrine

She now helps produce a music and entertainment show, and voices characters in one of Skyy Radio’s drama series. The shows use drama to highlight issues affecting women in Sierra Leone.

Edwina actually asked me for help with her voicing for the dramas. She doesn’t need any help. She’s acts for radio as if there are TV cameras in front of her. Waving her hands, booming her voice, and jerking her head – a West African woman not to be messed with.

The journalism comes a little less naturally to Edwina. “It’s tough for me coming into the business.” But in Kroo Bay she has already stopped looking down at her notepad. She just asks questions that occur to her.

“I know I can do it if I try,” she admits. Trying to help a Sierra Leone, that’s still full of problems. But a Sierra Leone with a promising future, just like hers.

Rain in Liberia and how weather becomes an issue of health, and even life or death

During Liberia's wet season, neighbourhood wells can become contaminated with waterborne diseases, to which children are especially susceptible. Travis Lupick photo.

Living in Liberia through the country’s wet season, I find myself nostalgic for the relatively dry climate of Vancouver. To witness a true West African monsoon is to realize that western Canada is seldom inconvenienced by more than a drizzle.

A couple of statistics to explain my point: downtown Vancouver receives an average annual rainfall of 1,590 millimetres. Monrovia: 5,300 millimetres. The capital of Liberia sees almost as much rain during the month of July (1,150 millimetres) as Vancouver does in an entire year.

For many in Liberia, weather is an issue of health, and even life or death.

On a recent visit to Monrovia’s West Point neighbourhood, Thomas Tweh, head of the community’s sanitation committee, explained the problems that come with the wet season.

“When it rains, the water flows through the streets and into the wells,” he said. “Water with feces goes into the wells.”

During seasonal flooding, wells with openings at ground level are easily contaminated with waterborne diseases such as dysentery. Travis Lupick photo.

Lacking access to the city’s water supply, Tweh estimated that West Point relies on wells for 95 percent of its water needs.

He said that residents know that water from the wells is not safe to drink. But for many, the cost of clean drinking water leaves them no choice.

“And the little ones, they drink the well water unknowingly,” Tweh added. “This is how they become sick with waterborne diseases.”

West Point is one of the poorest areas of Monrovia. A July 2012 report on the neighborhood found that 85 percent of households live on less than 4,000 Liberian dollars (US$57) a month (and many, significantly less than that). That same study reported that water pollution is the primary community concern. West Point sits at sea level, and so is especially prone to flooding.

Tweh listed dysentery and typhoid as seasonal problems that come with the rains every year.

“We are talking about diseases like cholera,” he continued. “Just three weeks ago, a child fell sick from some water. We tried rehydration. But within a number of hours, he was gone.”

In Clara Town, another low-income neighborhood in Monrovia, David Jacobs, chairperson for the community, relayed complaints similar to those of Tweh.

“The drainage ditches around this community are very, very small,” Jacobs noted. “They were not meant for this many people,” which is he estimates is around 48,000.

In Clara Town, Monrovia, a lack of options for waste disposal has resulted in drainage ditches meant clogged with waste. Travis Lupick photo.

Touring Clara Town, Jacobs pointed to open waterways clogged by piles of garbage. He explained that the community lacks a proper facility for waste, and so people use the drainage ditches as disposal sites.

“When the rains come, the water just goes everywhere,” Jacobs lamented. “Sanitation is the issue here. You get cases of diarrhea.”

Back in West Point, Tweh presented a simple plan that could drastically improve the quality of the community’s well water.

He wants to strip existing wells of their metal linings— which are porous and rust— and replace them with more durable, heavy plastic linings. In addition, Tweh continued, wells with openings at ground level should be raised with concrete barriers so that their entry points always remain above flood levels.

Tweh has identified 50 specific wells for such renovations, and estimates that the cost of each upgrade would be US$100, or US$5,000 to significantly improve the quality of sanitation for a community of some 72,000 people.

Tweh maintained that funding remains the only barrier to his plan. He said that he’s approached several NGOs active in Monrovia, “but everybody is holding on to their money.”

Thomas Tweh, head of sanitation for Monrovia's West Point community, says he has a practical plan to improve access to clean water in the area. Travis Lupick photo.

Jacobs similarly has ideas about how to address the sanitation problems he described in Clara Town. Drainage ditches should be widened, he suggested. And open sewers should be covered to prevent people from using them for the disposal of garbage.

But again, there’s a lack of funding.

Both West Point and Clara Town are technically informal settlements— slums, as they are commonly referred. And so while the City does do business with them and is beginning to provide the most basic of social services, neither community is a high priority for the Mayor’s office.

During our interview, Tweh repeatedly returned to the story of the young boy who succumbed to dysentery. He emphasized how easily the death could have been prevented.

“They tried to take the child to the health facility,” Tweh recounted. “But at the end of the day, the child was lost.”

Follow Travis Lupick on Twitter: @tlupick

A woman collects dumping fees at Bantama. Her child stays with her at the site.

Day Cares and Dump Sites: Sanitation Problems in Kumasi

This week, my colleagues and I decided to examine urban sanitation and the associated health issues for Ultimate Radio’s Morning Show. We knew of several waste sites around town that were particularly concerning, so we went out to find them – recorders and cameras in hand.

First, we visited a garbage dump in the residential neighbourhood of Bantama, where no one has come to collect the rubbish for over a month. The woman who takes dumping fees at the site told us that nobody knew who exactly was responsible for removing the rubbish, or why they had stopped.  We also spoke to local residents and food vendors, who expressed concern over the smell, sight, and the possibility of food contamination there.

Next we went to the “Wewe” stream, which feeds the city’s main waterworks. The stream has been turned into one of Kumasi’s major drains, and its banks are covered in garbage. We noticed some Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) workers cleaning the roads nearby. They were employed to sweep away dust on the side of the road while, meters away, no action was being taken to clean up the stream.

We followed the water up to the neighbourhood of Ahinsan, where we found a refuse site, measuring 50 by 40 meters and about 10 meters high. It is used by nearby market workers and local inhabitants, as well as fishmongers who smoke their fish there. It is enormous, and sits right on the banks of one of the city’s major drains.

Perhaps most worrisome, however, was the daycare centre we found just meters away from this dump. Comfort and Alexon Kidd-Darko opened the Comkid Daycare Centre years before the site became a refuse dump, but now they must spend a great deal of their time–and money–on fighting the authorities over it.

“Because of the children, I’m not happy with this. When we came, there was nothing like this. If the place had been like this, I wouldn’t have put money here,” said Mrs. Kidd-Darko.

She also noted the damage that the site has been inflicting on their business.

“Now the children are not coming because of this, and my work is down. So now we are helpless,” she told me.

She said, however, that the centre takes every precaution to keep the children safe and healthy. They have fenced the place in and installed netting around the building to keep flies and mosquitoes away. They also never let the children play outside of the compound.

This is important because, according to Doctor Franklin Asiedu-Dekoe, children are especially at risk of illness resulting from sites like these.

“Children like to play on these refuse dumps,” he said. And they are more likely to fall ill, he explained, “because children are less likely to wash their hands with soap and water before anything enters their mouths.”

He also noted that malaria could spread in the area, if garbage prevents the stream from flowing properly and creates a build-up of still water.

We spoke to an official of the Ahinsan Market Committee – the ones in charge of managing the dump, according to the Kidd-Darkos. But he blamed the KMA members for the site’s mismanagement.

“We would be grateful if the Assembly officials could get this dumping site well managed or even get it relocated for us,” he said.

But he later admitted that his committee is in fact responsible for managing the site, and that all proceeds made from the dump go to them–not the KMA.

According to Doctor Asiedu-Dekoe, everyone is responsible for the maintenance of such urban waste sites – even the individuals who choose to dispose of their waste there.

Mrs. Kidd-Darko expressed a hope that the relevant authorities would soon be held accountable for the dumping site. She said its removal would not only be in the best interests of her daycare, but also of all the residents and market vendors in the area.

“It’s not healthy for even the residents here, and the market itself, let alone the children,” she said.

Dumping grounds fast becoming residential areas – but without the clean-up

By Nina Lex, Timothy Banda, Arthur Cola Mvuta, and Glitter Ndovi

A garbage filled river outside Blantyre’s main market. Photo by Nina Lex.

As Malawi becomes one of the world’s fastest urbanizing countries, more and more Malawians are being pushed off their land and forced to live in areas used as dumping sites, known as “kuntaya”.

Although one of the least urbanized nations in Africa and with a population of just 13 million, the United Nations forecasts that by 2050 this number will double, forcing many rural dwellers into urban settlements in search of better economical opportunities.

Only 20 per cent of the national population lives in urban areas; however, since 1998, the urban population has increased by 63 per cent. The government has attempted to set up small towns, such as the informal settlement of Misesa located between Limbe and Blantyre, to divert rural-urban migrants away from major cities. But these areas have grown into slums, according to a report by Mtafu Zeleza Manda, an expert in urbanization who helped establish the Malawi Urban Forum and the Malawi Award for Human Settlements.

According to Manda’s report, poor access to water and sanitation means that dumping areas and slums pose numerous health concerns for residents, as they become a breeding place for pests and disease.

A survey done by the Ministry of Health shows that these areas are at high risk for diarrhea, especially in the rainy season because drinking water is often contaminated by garbage.

Water and sanitation in urban areas in Malawi, where over 60 per cent of the population lives in informal settlements – also known as squatter settlements or slums – falls under the public health department. However, government agencies are reluctant to provide basic services to informal settlements because they feel that this would encourage their development or growth.

According to the Blantyre City Council public relations officer, Luzana Khanga, dumping sites are located away from areas where people live so they can be easily monitored.

“We are trying as much as we can to help the people living in these areas, because cleaner conditions where people live will decrease cases of diseases in hospitals, thereby reducing the money spent on buying drugs,” says Khanga.

Khanga claims that people move into these areas illegally putting themselves in danger because of toxic garbage and water-borne disease. However, residents of these areas argue that they have been forced to move to dumping zones because of a shortage of land to settle on.

Students also miss school because of poor sanitation in schools.  According to The Nation newspaper, in the Mchesi area of the country’s capital city, Lilongwe, two schools remained without toilets for five years, causing student to use the nearby woods, which subsequently led to a high drop-out rate among female pupils.

Only 10 per cent of Blantyre’s, Malawi’s commercial center, population live in homes connected to sewers lines. While only 8 per cent of Lilongwe’s population is connected to sewers, the country’s third largest city, Mzuzu, has no sewer lines.

In 2008, the then Foreign Affairs Minister Joyce Banda said that Malawi had already surpassed the Millennium Development Goals target related to water and sanitation, which had aimed to provide 74 per cent of Malawian with access to safe drinking water by 2015. As of 2006, 75 per cent of Malawi already had access to clean water.

“At this rate our projection is that by 2015 about 94 percent of the population will have access to sustainable water sources,” Banda said.

However, contained within his report, Manda argues that Malawi has a long way to go in order to meet the MDG definition: to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.