In a meeting held under the big mango tree, a Nigerian community calls on a humble carpenter to find a way to improve their latrines. The simple, low-cost invention he comes up with is a big hit.
BENUE STATE, Nigeria (August 1, 2013) – Lately, Martin Dewaun Iyo’s humble carpentry business has seen a buzz of activity in what is normally a slow trade in cabinets and doors. Mr. Iyo has invented a new product – a ventilated drop-hole cover for the latrine.
It is a simple device that takes him about an hour to complete, but one that is making an unexpected change for the better in the small rural community of Iorpuu.
Almost every home in Iorpuu has one of Mr. Iyo’s latrine covers, and he is now starting to produce this product for neighboring villages.
Iorpuu community is made up of 116 households. The community began participating in a community-led total sanitation initiative in December in 2011. The initiative is part of a program called SHAWN – Sanitation, Hygiene and Water in Nigeria, which is implemented by UNICEF and government partners with funding from UK Aid.
Community involvement in SHAWN began through a process known as triggering. A community is informed of the impact that good sanitation practices can have. Each family then constructed its own pit latrine from local materials. Iorpuu is among 4,500 communities in Nigeria declared "open defecation free" since the program began in 2008.
Mr. Iyo’s latrine covers came out of the need to solve a problem – women were refusing to use the family latrines.
Each latrine has a cover made of wood or plastic, which prevents flies and cockroaches from entering and also helps stop odors from escaping. An unintended consequence of this hygienic practice was the emission and capture of hot air. Stella Ifeoma Okafor, a consultant for SHAWN, believes that the heat creates concern among women about contracting infection.
Despite the open defecation free status, it wasn’t long before the community’s water and sanitation committee was forced to hold a strategic meeting under the large mango tree in the middle of the village. The topic of discussion: the number of complaints received from women who refused to use their newly built latrines because of the heat. After much brainstorming and deliberation, the committee called on Mr. Iyo to assist.
My. Iyo learned about the problem and then returned to his workshop. He needed to create a device through which air could escape, but that would also prevent flies and cockroaches from entering. “At first, I was using an iron net,” he explains, “but then I realized that the netting rusted – so now I use this one.” He points to four squares of plastic netting neatly nailed into a wooden structure.
The committee approved the design. Since then, Mr. Iyo hasn’t been able to keep up with orders. Each toilet cover is sold for 500 naira (about US$2.50), an affordable amount for this community made up mainly of subsistence farmers. “For now, things like chairs and roofing require more money, so the community is not able to always come up with that money,” says Mr. Iyo. “But, for this one, because it does not cost too much money, people can buy it.”
According to a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey conducted in 2012, only 31 per cent of people in Nigeria had access to improved sanitation facilities, and only 58.5 per cent had access to clean water in 2011. People in rural areas were about 1.5 times less likely to have access to water and improved sanitation facilities than those in urban areas. People from the lowest wealth quintile were 5.3 times less likely to have access to improved sanitation than those from the highest wealth quintile.
The majority of poor Nigerians live in rural areas. Community-based programs are essential in rural areas with limited infrastructure to make sure communities remain hygienic and to prevent the spread of such diseases as diarrhea – one of the leading causes of death among young children.
The leadership by the water and sanitation committee and Mr. Iyo’s low-cost invention show the effectiveness of such homegrown approaches. “The importance of community ownership is that it sustains this program even when there are no donors, even when they don’t have external people pushing them – it comes out from them,” says Ms. Okafor.
Euphemia Pever Nguseer sits under a tree shelling beans. She has a 19-month-old daughter. Ms. Nguseer talks about the impact that the latrine and toilet cover have had on the health of her family. “Since this new innovation, flies no longer get to the feces and contaminate the food, and we save the money of having to take children to the hospital.”
His low-cost invention has brought in some extra naira for Martin Dewaun Iyo, especially as surrounding villages have come to know of the benefits of his toilet cover. But the true reward, he says, is knowing that he has made life a little better in his community.