We are in search of Open Defecation Free Zones (ODFZ), and those villages that are yet to be certified as ODF in Turkana County, Kenya.
Our first stop is Nawoitorong Village, about 10 kilometers from Kakuma town, this village was certified as ODF in March 2020, meaning before then, residents here would use the bushes to relieve themselves.
48-year-old Alice Maarok, a resident of the village and a mother of six tells us what led to these latrine structures we see here.
“We were taught and realized that all along we have been eating our waste, we, therefore, decided to go to the forest and get some timber so that we can construct our latrines.”
The county government in conjunction with other Non-Governmental Organizations had to step in and teach them how to use other locally available materials to build the structures, as well as to always wash their hands with soap and water or using ashes after they use the latrines.
Her husband, Peter Palal Maarok spoke of the many water-borne diseases that they witnessed in the past years.
“There were a lot of diseases in my family, especially cholera and diarrhea, particularly in children.”
All that is now in the past, Caroline Emanikor is a community health extension worker in charge of this village, hers is to ensure the ODF status of this village improves.
“A lot of them asked questions when we started training them, some said they are used to relieving themselves in the forests, others would say it’s against their culture to put their waste together (in a latrine)”, Caroline explains.
She is happy with the progress thus far.
Conversely, in Narong’ole village in Lokipoto, which is more than 86 kilometers from Kakuma, the situation is really different. You don’t need to go far to see human waste all over.
“The problem is that most of the residents here are old and it’s therefore difficult to ask an old person to construct a latrine,” says Erukan Deilila, a community health worker in Lokipoto. “However when I insist, they promise they will but when you come back the following day you find they are yet to do it, they then use hunger as an excuse.”
She is then forced to remove the human waste herself, and sometimes, the villagers join her.
Turkana county has partnered with various organizations including UNICEF, World Vision, Kenya Red Cross Society among others to reach the ODF status.
It aims at becoming ODF in the year 2026. However, that 2026 target can only be reached if the partners do not pull out of the alliance. The partners are heavily involved in sensitizing the people, financing and kickstarting the process of certification by public health officers, which is the only way a village becomes ODF.
In the event they do, then the county is looking at 2036/2037, according to the county officials.
Augustine Lokwang, who heads the county’s health and sanitation department, tells us that thus far, only 549 villages have been certified as ODF, this is out of 2,249 villages, the county clearly has a long way to go.
It took about six to seven years for the more than 500 villages to be certified.
Pastoralism is another issue delaying the process of certification. Most of the herdsmen occasionally move from one point to another and as a result, see no point in constructing latrines.
There is however reason to smile as the few villages that have been certified have led to a reduction in the number of diarrhea cases witnessed in the county.
The number has come down by 28%, this is according to the Director of Medical Services, Turkana County, Dr. Gilchrist Lokoel.
“This however is not solely attributed to the ODF Zones, COVID-19 too has played a huge part as residents now wash their hands more often, using soap and water.” Dr. Lokoel explains.