BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
UPON leaving Mutawatawa Growth Point towards Pfungwe in Mashonaland East province, a newcomer cannot believe the neatly erected posts inscribed with unprintable words.
In a move meant to deal with open defecation in the area, the locals, in conjunction with non-governmental organisations, erected sign posts inscribed “Dhodh* Mutoilet” (to mean human excreta in the toilet), to encourage people to desist from the bad habit of using the bush as toilet.
Some of the posters carry explicit language to discourage open defecation.
“This has really worked well, especially for visitors in the area. The message carried on those structures means this village is against people who pollute the environment by not using toilets,” Maria Nyamandwe, from Dindi village, said.
Some notable sign posts are found in villages like Nyabvedzi in ward 5.
According to local village health workers, the posts have helped reduce diarrhoea cases.
The inscribed words are believed to be powerful enough to deter visitors from relieving themselves in the bush as the fight against open defecation intensifies following the successful Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme implemented across the country.
Maramba legislator Tichaona Karimazondo (Zanu PF) said the fight against open defecation was successful as denoted by the low cases of water-borne-related diseases.
He said about 90% of households in Maramba-Pfungwe had ablution facilities, a move that has promoted hygiene in the marginalised community and a subsequent reduction in water-borne diseases.
“This area is an epitome of a clean environment. We are happy about the achievements made so far concerning a clean environment as well as health issues in general. In Dindi village, we once had a cholera outbreak that claimed lives, hence we are too cautious about cleanliness,” he said.
“The issue of water-borne diseases is no longer giving us a headache. Most homesteads have Blair toilets, while the sign posts denouncing open defecation have played an important role in informing both visitors and villagers.”
According to a report by Unicef in 2015, 40% of rural folk practise open defecation.
Open defecation is a perennial problem and in 2010, a World Bank expert on water and sanitation, Piers Cross, declared Zimbabwe the worst country in relation to this practice.
In the Human Rights Watch 2013 annual report, it is also stated that poor sanitation practices like open defecation as well as lack of water for hand washing led to outbreaks of water-borne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid.
In 2017, Maja village in Mudzi district of Mashonaland East province became the first village to attain open defecation-free status.
The status is accorded to a community that has all its members using sanitation facilities.
In the province, apart from Uzumba and Mudzi, the WASH programme was successfully implemented in Mutoko and Chikomba districts, with its main aim being to eradicate open defecation, starting with selected and targeted communities.
Environmental Management Agency provincial spokesperson Astas Mabwe said it was high time everyone uses ablution facilities to ensure a clean environment.
“We are there to ensure that environmental rights are enjoyed by everyone as enshrined in section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. People have a right to a safe and healthy environment. We urge people to use proper ablution facilities so as to enjoy good health,” he said.
In 2018, Unicef continued to increase access to water by drilling new boreholes and rehabilitating defunct pipe water schemes and boreholes in rural districts with a strong focus on solar power even in the urban areas.
At least 14 small towns benefited from the WASH programme through the rehabilitation of both water and sewerage systems.
Today, despite being regarded as a marginalised area, villagers in Maramba-Pfungwe boast a clean environment following tireless efforts that included erecting sign posts at all entry points to each village.
To visitors, the seemingly vulgar words could have been inscribed by an immoral person, but to the inhabitants, they have successfully served their purpose of fighting open defecation in the area.