Traditional practices along the coastal areas, particularly in places bordering the Indian Ocean have, for decades, been dictating that the sea is the place with which to deposit human faeces.
In such places, people living in fishing villages pay visits to the sea when need for one to go for a call of nature arises, an expedition made normally after night-fall when fishing activities have ceased and most people are in individual households.
It transpires that the areas are demarcated. There are those for women and others for men; the mission, nevertheless being the same: open defecation in the sea. Areas involved cover the entire coastal strip from Tanga to Kilwa.
Here, you will find only few latrines, most of them being reserved for visitors from towns who may not be used to open defecating either in the sea or in shrubs along the sea shore.
“Along the coastline, nobody would willingly build a latrine when the sea is only a stone’s throw away from where he or she lives,” says Mwatuwa Omari, a resident of Chongoleani, a fishing village on the Tanga-Mombasa Road.
He says “If you tell a villager here to build a latrine, he will just look at you and laugh, meaning that doing so is a dream, considering the cost involved –quite out of reach of any villager.”
Indeed, any attempt to change peoples attitudes on any matter involving their way of life, is an uphill task.
For at the climax of the Annual World Toilet Day in December 2010, held at national level in Tanga, former Regional Commissioner Said Kalembo warned those cherishing the tradition of open defecation to abandon the habit and build modern latrines and use them.
Easier said than done, for over two years now, no single latrine has reportedly been built in any of the region’s eight districts.
District authorities contacted by this writer, including those in Pangani and Tanga, say sensitisation campaigns were on going on.
“You should realize that changing a person to abandon a habit he has been used to for ages and embark on something different is not easy,” says one of the District Executive Officers (DED) on condition of anonymity, adding that he was hopeful the villagers would ultimately change mindset.
The only district which responded to the government call positively is Handeni where over 200 households’ heads were arrested and fined a total of 45m/= randomly for failing to build latrines.
Handeni District Health Officer, Benedict Bundala, says the campaign was aimed at controlling cholera – one of the notorious contagious disease, along with disentry. The two diseases have, according to Bundala, been recurring in most villages in the district.
Acting Tanga Regional Health Officer Seif Shaibu says a total of 3,410 patients from Handeni District were admitted in various health facilities due to cholera in 2009.
Next to Handeni, says Shaibu, was Korogwe, which had recorded 565 cases, followed by Mkinga – 62, adding that out of the 3410 from Handeni – 52 of them lost their lives.
“Handeni district is mostly barren. Its few water sources are highly contaminated”, said Shaibu in an exclusive with a team of journalists recently.
The journalists, on a seminar on health reporting from Tanga Press Club, had apparently wanted to know why the district’s cases of cholera were abnormally high.
Commenting on the situation obtaining along the coastline, Alex Kari, a national of Finland, in the country for a two week tour, says it is prudent that communities are sensitized on the necessity to maintain beaches in sustainable manner for the growth of the economy and ensuring their health status.
“Beaches should be protected through by –laws that have to be formulated to ensure they are attractive to both tourists and the fishing industry,” he says.
Diarrhoea is caused by pathogens found in human faeces. It can be effectively fought by consistent use of latrines.
“Consistent use of latrines can reduce diarrhoea by 36 percent’say Richard Carter and Marko Msimbazi in a joint report for Water Aid.
According to the experts, Tanzania loses the equivalent of one million life years in productivity every year due to water, hygiene and sanitation disease.
A report by End Water Poverty (Sanitation and Water for all) reveals that one gramme of faeces can contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs.
The report says sanitation and water have remained issues of low priority due to lack of political will to push through changes that benefit the poorest and most vulnerable groups.