YAROU PLATEAU, Mali — The Yarou Plateau is a village located in the African country of Mali. Like many villages in Africa, the Yarou Plateau suffers from a high rate of disease and malnourished citizens. High poverty rates and reoccurring food insecurity are two of the many factors that contribute to the country’s ongoing problems. One of the most life-threatening diseases suffered in the Yarou Plateau stems from diarrheal disease. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diarrheal diseases rank third on the list of top disease-related deaths in Mali. Although the disease rates in the Yarou Plateau are very high, the community’s bad habits played a large role in their problem.
The majority of Malian villages do not have latrines, and the existing latrines are usually in terrible condition or have never been fully functional. The poorly constructed latrines allowed flies easy access to the fecal matter within. This enabled diseases to spread like wildfire — the flies would land on everything from people to the food they consumed.
The Yarou Plateau’s citizens were forced to use any available space for defecation and other bathroom needs. Consequently, this terrible habit leads to groundwater contamination and increased the already high diarrheal disease rates that plagued the village. This also increased the chances of malnourished citizens to contract diseases because their immune systems were already weak to begin with. The Yarou Plateau underwent an epidemic of the disease until the village’s Chief, Hamidou Samakan, and The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) stepped in.
USAID’s implemented the WASHplus program that was has helped “everything from handwashing with soap, to safely disposing of adult and child feces, to preparing and storing food safely.” USAID’s WASHplus program has revamped the latrines in the Yarou Plateau and improved the overall sanitation of the village. The WASHplus program also focuses heavily on the nutritional value within the community, which is one of the main causes for diarrheal issues. Although USAID has drastically changed the overall environment in the Yarou Plateau, it is universally understood that the village itself must take the initiative toward the hygiene problem it faces.
At the core of the USAID’s WASHplus program is an established community led total sanitation activity (CLTS), that Samakan helped initiate. The main goal of CLTS is to end open defecation by creating active community involvement with the issue. The CLTS activity has educated the Yarou Plateau citizens about the consequences of defecating in public and has encouraged them to end the practice as one unit. Every family is held accountable for building low expense latrines and keeping the village sanitary.
Samakan took notice that the neighboring village of Gouna had already begun great hygienic practices and turned its village around. Gouna built well-constructed latrines and the overall health of its citizens noticeably increased. The entire community decided to keep the practice going. Since the time Samakan took his new found knowledge to the Yarou Plateau, “the village has built over 60 latrines, and rehabilitated ones that had never been used.”
Altogether, the WASHplus program has been able to lend support to 180 villages and “more than 70 percent of them have been certified as free of open defecation.” The addition of covered latrines, knowledge about non-hygienic consequences and newly instilled community cleaning efforts have turned the village around. The numbers of malnourished individuals and diarrheal diseases have been reduced greatly. Samakan and USAID have created a sustainable project that will continue to help the Yarou Plateau and other villages for years to come.
– Terry J. Halloran