Residents defecate in plastic bags

By Paulina Ndalikokule and Maria Hamutenya

WITH only around 30 public toilets shared by more than 50 000 people in various informal settlements around Windhoek, residents of these unserviced areas on the outskirts of the city have no option but to use the bushes or to poop in plastic bags when the need arises.

This was one of the embarrassing revelations by residents of Kilimanjaro in Okuryungava, Babylon, Havana, Okahandja Park and Goreangab informal settlements recently.

Several visits to the informal settlements over a period of a week confirmed the prevalence of unhygienic conditions, including closed and dysfunctional public toilets, as well as the proliferation of feces in the streets where children often play, and in plastic bags disposed in municipal dustbins.

Some toilet facilities in areas inspected by Confidente were either closed, out of order, blocked and filled with trash, with only a few showing indications of being functional at a minimum standard.

Ruusa Sakaria, a resident of Kilimanjaro in Okuryungava informal settlement whose shack is opposite two dilapidated toilets, said the City of Windhoek was overlooking their needs by providing meagre services in the low-income areas.

One toilet, she said, has been out of order for over a year when she first relocated to the area. The toilet they use is flooded with water due to a leakage. Residents have since placed rocks inside the toilet to be able to use the flooded latrine.

“The situation becomes worse when it rains because the toilets are built on a low ground, which sometimes floods the toilets,” Sakaria observed, noting that due to the lack of sufficient toilets many people have resorted to relieving themselves in the bushes and in plastic bags.

“Some people even do it in plastics and throw them in municipal dustbins because the toilets have not been serviced for years.”

Sakaria said they always have to keep an eye on their children who sometimes play in the vicinity of the clogged toilets, which are built near their houses. She also raised concern about the risk of epidemics, such as Hepatitis E and cholera that have plagued informal settlements in recent years.

To minimise the risk of contracting infectious diseases, “We try to make sure that the children don’t go inside the toilets. Every month we buy hand washing soaps to properly wash our hands before eating,” she said.

The untenable sanitation problem appears to be prevalent in all informal settlements around northern and western Windhoek, with Havana seemingly topping the list as the most unhygienic settlement.

Confidente found Jennifer Temapo transporting water from a communal standpipe in more than 10 containers after walking for quite a distance. She said they only have water and toilet facilities in one area, which is often a struggle for those who live far from the toilets.

“Sometimes your long walk will be in vain because you might find the toilets locked by other residents who sometimes don’t like to share the keys, so we resort to the bushes but when it’s dark you just have to use a plastic bag and throw it away.”

Asked why it takes the municipality long periods to fix broken toilets, spokesperson Lydia Amutenya explained that “It depends on the availability of the technical team, and sometimes, the problem is not reported directly to our Contact Centre 290 2402 / 2162 in order to dispatch the team to attend to the matter.

“However, the City does respond to call outs as reported. It should be noted that due to the frequent blockage as a result of misuse of the sewer system, we have recorded continuous service calls from the same suburbs e.g., Eveline Street in Greenwell, etc. We do find in some areas that problems with blocked drains are not reported at all. In the Onghulumbashe area where we have been working recently, we came to learn that the pipe has been blocked for the past three years, we were not aware of this. Thus in these known areas of concern, we will inspect sewer lines every six months.”

She added that the main challenge is the incorrect use of the sewer system where foreign objects such as cow heads, blankets, sticks, stones, animal skin and car parts are forced into the system leading to sewer blockage.

“Another common problem is vandalism and theft. Where things like a toilet pot, doors etc. are being stolen regularly.

“The upkeep of the toilets is the responsibility of the communities, and the City expects them to take responsibility and ownership of those facilities meant to improve their living conditions. Thus, their detailed cleaning schedule is not known by the City. However, it is expected that the ablution facilities are kept clean regularly to maintain hygienic conditions.”

Amutenya urged the public to stop disposing non-flushable products and illegally connecting to the sewer system as it is the main contributing factor leading to continuously blockages reported in our City.

“Blockages can lead to sewer flooding and even pollution into the environment and that contributes to the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis E. The public is thus reminded that all non-flushable items should be correctly disposed of at designated municipal disposal sites around the City. It is thus important to note that what goes down the sewer system matters as the City of Windhoek spends a lot of limited resources every day clearing blockages caused by things that should never have entered the sewage system,” she said.

She reiterated that improved sanitation in communities is a priority to Council, and every financial year a provision is made to ensure that the basic services.  Acknowledging insufficient toilets in the affected areas, Amutenya noted that there are plans to build more toilets.