Hundreds of households in Guyana have gained access to adequate sanitation services. In their own words, they are “going up in life” by having a flushing toilet at home, a fixture that was once considered a luxury.
By Marle Reyes and Leticia Ramjag*
It is 7:30 in the morning and Leila and her brother Raj are doing their morning chores before taking the bus to school in Sophia, a neighborhood in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. “Now I can bring Janie home and we can finish our homework together,” Leila shouted to her brother as he hurriedly mopped the floor of the bathroom.
“So why do you want her to come now?” Raj asked. Leila, straightening up from sweeping the yard replied, “because now we have a proper toilet.” She looked back to see if her father was listening and saw that he was in the kitchen preparing their lunches for school. She knew he worked hard to provide for her and Raj and did not want him to know that she did not bring any friends home as she was ashamed that they used a latrine. She remembered her father using corrugated zinc he had picked up around the neighborhood to patch the holes in the roof of the latrine which leaked heavily whenever it rained. She remembered the yard being flooded during the rainy season, the flies and smell, waiting until she was at school to use the toilet.
It has been almost 3 months since the water authority constructed their new flush toilet. Looking on as Raj continued to mop, Leila felt a deep sense of pride and dignity.
For most of us, having a flush toilet is nothing more than the usual fixture in our homes, something we see as basic. For poor families like Leila’s, having a flush toilet is no more an unreachable luxury, easy access to one is life-changing; a hope of better things to come.
In Guyana, when neighbors see someone installing a flush toilet in the home, they are quick to say, “eh, yuh going up in life”. The World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) reports that 86% of Guyana’s population have access to at least basic sanitation, while the percentage improves in urban areas (92%), there are still thousands of persons without access to an adequate service.
The conversion of inadequate pit latrines to septic tanks and the construction of accompanying toilets and sinks are part of a USD29 million water and sanitation infrastructure improvement program in Guyana, co-financed by the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Union. More than 300 households in Guyana have now access to adequate sanitation services.
Guyana Water Inc. is the country’s only water supply and sanitation utility. GWI operates the only sewerage system in the country which serves only Central Georgetown (about 2% of the population). The rest of the population disposes of wastewater through septic tanks (66%) and pit latrines (28%).
The beneficiaries for the sanitation improvement component were selected based on criteria that considered socio-economic factors, as well as gender and vulnerable population considerations. However, matching the desire of a sanitary facility with the need to adequately protect public health and the environment and overcoming local site, cultural, religious, and other household dynamics posed significant challenges. To meet the needs of the beneficiaries within the objectives of the program, it was necessary to consider the physical design of the facility, cultural and religious preferences, and the needs of the household, such as the size and location of dwelling, presence of physically disabled persons, level of sanitary awareness, among others. Further, with the threat of Covid-19, innovative measures had to be considered by the executing agency so as to continue helping households to access adequate facilities.
The circumstances were varied, and it ranged from installing toilets inside the premises with limited spaces to installation outside premises, adapting the design to facilitate ventilation and natural solar light, adapt the solution to include adequate access to the new sanitary facility. A one-size-fits-all approach could not have delivered the objectives of the project and meet the expectations of all potential beneficiaries. Effective solutions required aligning the need for sound technical solutions with personal preference/acceptance of beneficiaries, along with the need to support future household development and ensuring the safety, privacy, and health of all the beneficiaries.
The program successfully aligned water supply, sanitation, and hand hygiene infrastructure in simple ways to deliver complete WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) solutions at the level of households. Leila’s father, a single parent, is among the 328 households who benefited from having a flush toilet equipped with a handwashing facility in their homes for the first time. For Leila, at 13, her need for privacy and hygiene are greater than her 15-year-old brother’s, and for her, this new and improved sanitary solution allows her a profound sense of security which most of us take for granted and might not even understand.
*Leticia Ramjag, a Guyanese national, is a Senior Operations Associate at the Inter-American Development Bank’s country office in Guyana.