Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Liberia's Sanitation Hell: In Claratown, Scarcity of Toilets Pose Health Risks

Liberia's Sanitation Hell: In Claratown, Scarcity of Toilets Pose Health Risks

02/02/2010 - Story by Nat Bayjay, nbayjay@FrontPageAfrica.com, Photos by Sando J. Moore
CLARATOWN-

For two months, Miatta Kandakai and the women of Claratown have been without a toilet of their own. On most days, men, women and children have to share the same toilets – one at a time. As many queue and await their turn, smells from nearby toilets fill the air, forcing one passerby to hold his nose.

“My brother, the people built this toilet but we could not use it for even 2 months,” Kandakai explains. “In fact,” she says: “We the women were forced to use the same place with the men because they told us that the ‘women side’ was not good”. Kandakai laments her plight – to the obviously uncomfortable visitor, as she points toward one of the relatively new toilets which she lives next to. “So, we force to just use the ones them where the people built over the river”, she says.

Like Kandakai, most of the residents lament to a visitor that there is indeed a serious need for toilets because a vast majority of the houses have none.

Sanitation is known to be one of mankind’s basic necessities for better life. But it seems the thousands of Clara Town residents have compromised that aspect and are virtually not just living in filth but unimaginable poor sanitation conditions.

The township is strategically located in the commercial district of Bushrod Island is just a stone throw from Central Monrovia and has an estimated 61,000 to 65,000 inhabitants. The sanitation problems range from lack of adequate toilet facilities to unkempt drainages and filthy environment.

Struggle for toilets – a serious issue

The lack of adequate toilet facilities is no doubt the township’s gravest sanitation problem. More than 90 percent of the houses were built without toilets (whether indoor or close-by), forcing residents to rely on public toilet facilities. The toilets are not only nasty in most cases but are also insufficient to cater to the tens of thousands of residents that flock early morning hours and late evening hours to ease themselves.

To add ‘salt to injury’, a lot of the already insufficient public toilets have been closed to the residents—a situation that has prompted the constructions of over a hundred make-shifts toilets along the bank of the Mesurado River popularly known as the ‘Du River’.

Authorities clothed with catering to these public toilets known as the Seven-Man Council of Clara Town tells a reporter that the closure of the toilets is due to the fact that most of them are over-filled with feces.

The council is reportedly charged with the general welfare of the Township and is said to be drawn from a cross-section of Clara Town’s most dominant tribes (two representatives each from the Grebo and Vai Tribes which are in majority, one representative from the Kru Tribe and two representatives to generally represent the other tribes of the Township.)

The Council which replaced a previous community council named the United Development Association (UDA) of Clara Town is said to be heading in similar direction as the UDA due to its inability to cater to these needs which includes the continual filthy drainages as shown in the picture.

Augustine Passewe, Secretary to the Commissioner of the Township of Clara Town says there is a unit called the Management Team which is responsible to cater to the drainages. True to his words, many of the residents informed a visitor that the Management Team periodically tries its best in cleaning the drainages as well as dump-sites in the community. But again, the efforts just cannot get the commendations that it should probably be getting because it is often said that “a job half-done is not done at all”.

No choice but to do it on herself

Passewe attributes the closure of the toilets to sewerage lines which need to be reconnected to proper ones or new ones dug—indications that they were indeed poorly connected to inadequate or ill-functional sewerage lines. Most of the closed public toilets have just been constructed but yet are not able to serve the people for whom they were built.

A local resident who prefer not to be identified tells the visitor how she was compelled to toilet on herself due to the usual over-crowdedness of the toilets (public and private). The woman explains that the disgraceful incident happened to her one early morning after she had experienced a terrible ‘running stomach’ the previous night. “When I rushed to the water side that morning, everywhere was packed. So, I ran to the government toilet but again the line was long”, she said. Then she continued: “By the time I could make up mind, I was finished doing it on myself”, she concluded her ordeal.

‘PAY AS YOU TOILET’

Whether they can afford it or not, every visit to the toilet is paid for. Most of the residents explain that they prefer to use the toilets built over the river to the public ones. Residents pay LD$5 per visit to the toilet.

Implicitly, one has to calculate or budget additional LD$150 or USD$2.3 monthly for toilet per individual--- that is if one will not have to use the toilet more than once daily. Just in case one experiences a stomach disorder either due to Diarrhea or other stomach problem, you just might pay twice that amount. This also means that if you have a household of over five to 10 persons who are not able to secure a LD$5 note for toilet purpose, then the accumulated circulation is yours.

A woman, probably in his late sixties explains to the visitor that residents have to set aside at least LD$25 to LD $35 on the day that follows Christmas Day or Ramadan Day (depending on which religion you believe in since the Township is dominated by both Christians or Muslims). This is so because, as justified by her that is when one gets and eats food in abundance.

IMMINENT DANGER LOOMS

Standing along the bank of the Du River, what can be seen visibly is the chain of make-shift toilets as if one was viewing a congested traffic from an aerial view.

A survey conducted by FrontPageAfrica and proper examination of the make-shift toilets, found that a vast majority of them are what can only be described as ‘death traps’ while some are made only for those who are brave to use.

Children as young as four to six years can be seen squatting over tiny planks that link these toilets to the shore for the toilets are built about three to four feet away from the bank of the River. Since the children are small and a lot of their ‘seniors’(older people) will be in queues, they just cannot use the main toilets. Many use the tiny planks which serve as entrances to these toilets.

In additional to the nasty drainages, some of the Township’s water-pipes are opened for water supply just along the immediate edge of these dangerous drainages. Some of these water pipes are concentrated right within the same location of the man-holes of some of the public toilets.

SITUATION CREATES NEW FORM OF BUSINESS

The compulsory alternative discovered by these residents has eventually led to the establishment of a new form of business that proves to be a worthwhile venture. Owners or constructors of these ‘private’ toilets over the River have gotten a form of self-employment that is indeed sustaining them.

Wilfred Nyante, one of the owners of these numerous ‘water toilets’ explains that he makes between LD$900 to $1,000 daily—the equivalent of about USD$14.00-$15.00—from 5:30 AM to about 11PM.

Wilfred’s explanation serves as a confirmation that most of the residents prefer to use the ‘water toilets’ to the government or public toilets which is one reason why they (the owners)are able to make a living for themselves – off toilet necessities.

“This pays my house rent, feed my family and sends my two children to school”, Nyante says.

Reporter Nat Bayjay can be reached at nbayjay@frontpageafrica.com or 231-77-402-737
“My brother, the people built this toilet but we could not use it for even 2 months,” Kandakai explains. “In fact,” she says: “We the women were forced to use the same place with the men because they told us that the ‘women side’ was not good”. Kandakai laments her plight – to the obviously uncomfortable visitor, as she points toward one of the relatively new toilets which she lives next to. “So, we force to just use the ones them where the people built over the river”, she says.

Like Kandakai, most of the residents lament to a visitor that there is indeed a serious need for toilets because a vast majority of the houses have none.

Sanitation is known to be one of mankind’s basic necessities for better life. But it seems the thousands of Clara Town residents have compromised that aspect and are virtually not just living in filth but unimaginable poor sanitation conditions.

The township is strategically located in the commercial district of Bushrod Island is just a stone throw from Central Monrovia and has an estimated 61,000 to 65,000 inhabitants. The sanitation problems range from lack of adequate toilet facilities to unkempt drainages and filthy environment.

Struggle for toilets – a serious issue

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If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

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Liberia's Natural Resources
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Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah

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