Sanitation remains one of the key health issues in Zambia with many people in rural areas lacking access to adequate sanitation facilities. Chief Simamba of Siavonga district has made significance strides in promoting water and sanitation standards in his chiefdom. In 2015, Chief Simamba introduced community awards where one outstanding community receives a floating trophy for promoting good sanitary standards.
The awards are given during the Lwiindi traditional ceremony, an annual thanksgiving festival that attracts a lot of people from all parts of the country. The Chief celebrates the Lwiindi ceremony by consuming the first meal of the new season’s harvest.
Chief Simamba told ZGF that he introduced the awards to encourage his communities to build toilets, dish racks and rubbish pits to ensure hygiene standards are upheld. Nabutezi community, which has a toilet for every household, scooped the first trophy in 2015.
“Poor hygiene, shortage of water and lack of sanitation facilities such as toilets is causing pollution of the environment. Most homes have no toilets thereby exposing people to waterborne diseases. It’s even worse as children mostly below the age of five spend most of their time playing in the shallow dry river beds that are faecal polluted. Mindful of all this, I decided to introduce community awards in order to celebrate health because having sanitation facilities means good health. If you go to Nabutezi you find that almost every household has a toilet which is what I want to see in all the other communities,” he said.
To determine the winner, Chief Simamba said communities are monitored throughout the year by headmen and he also visits each community from time to time. “This is a results based initiative so selecting the winner is not difficult. I work with the headmen and I also get to visit and monitor the communities. Transport is a challenge at times, such that I have to use the boat to visit communities located on the island,” Chief Simamba said.
However, the chief says it has been an uphill task having everyone adhere to the call of building toilets. “At first when I said every household needed a toilet, people were highly resistant as they argued that they could still use the bush. I however, encouraged them to build toilets using the simplest and cheapest material. You find that for a start some families have built their toilets using poles, grass and reeds,” Chief Simamba explained.
A by-law has also been passed making it compulsory for every household to have a toilet. The introduction of the community awards and by-law has seen an increase in the number of toilets being built in Chief Simamba’s chiefdom.
Furthermore, Chief Simamba commended Harvest Help Zambia (HHZ), a local non-governmental organization and ZGF Grant Partner for advocating for the development and implementation of water and sanitation policies and programs through community participation in Simamba Ward of Siavonga. “It was really difficult to bring people on board but through community meetings held by HHZ, people are now forthcoming as they understand why they need to make use of the toilets and have access to clean water,” Chief Simamba said.
HHZ Director, Alexander Kasenzi said not only were the communities uncooperative but it was also difficult to bring the chief on board. “When we started doing the community engagement meetings educating people about water and sanitation policies, the chief was hostile at first as he thought we wanted to bring unrest in the communities. With time we found common ground with the chief as he began to understand that community participation was crucial for the development of the community,” said Kasenzi.
Kasenzi said the introduction of the community awards was a reinforcement of their advocacy work in water and sanitation programs in Simamba wards. “The introduction of the awards is a clear endorsement of furthering the good cause of promoting sanitation programs. It is a noble idea that we think can be replicated in other communities,” Kasenze said. HHZ has been playing a pivotal role in increasing policy awareness and action on water and sanitation in Simamba wards by organizing drama trips and performances on water and sanitation in the area.
“Apart from the dramas we have also been airing water and sanitation programs on Kariba FM and holding awareness meetings. As a result of these programs we have seen strengthened and coordinated working partnerships between the community and the local authority. This is evidenced by the rehabilitation of the Mundulundulu water reticulation system in Siavonga. To alleviate water challenges the local authority has been helping in bringing water to the people of Simamba using a bausser,” said Kasenze. Chief Simamba hopes to attain Open Defecation Free (ODF) status in the near future for promoting behavioural change on water, sanitation and hygiene in his community.