One of the least developed countries worldwide, Niger faces chronic food insecurity due to reliance on subsistence rain-fed agriculture, aggravated by high population growth, land degradation and climate change. The most recent food and nutrition crisis in 2012 drastically weakened vulnerable populations’ ability to recover from crises.
To address this chronic food insecurity, USAID is supporting a multi-layered development food assistance program implemented by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in several communities in Niger.
One of those communities is Doukou-Doukou, situated within the department of Mayahi in south central Niger and home to more than 780 people affected by chronic food insecurity.
But the residents of Doukou-Doukou are not just food insecure. Bad sanitation conditions and no access to latrines have led to high incidences of disease. Diarrheal diseases are common during the rainy season and over 50 percent of the children less than 5 years old are stunted.
Improving sanitation and hygiene is the first step towards decreasing disease and reducing diarrhea, allowing children to better digest food, absorb more nutrients, and lead healthier lives. The program introduced the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach in several villages, including Doukou-Doukou. The approach encourages communities to completely eliminate defecation in open areas.
The Doukou-Doukou village began tackling the high prevalence of disease by constructing 113 latrines to improve sanitation, one for almost every household in the village.
According to Chekarou Dare, the village chief, “Open defecation was the norm, we never thought about building latrines for ourselves. We sometimes think about it for our visitors because we don’t want to be embarrassed when they ask to visit a place of convenience.”
By working hand in hand with the community to identify some of the problems leading to disease, CRS trained leaders to tackle these problems on their own. Two natural leaders in Doukou-Doukou were trained to mobilize community members to eliminate open defecation.
“All of a sudden, members of our community understood the importance of latrines and hygiene in our community. It was a moment of magic. Everyone wanted a latrine at home, everyone wanted a hand washing station,” says Sahoura Salisou, one of the leaders. “Today, 113 latrines have been constructed; [almost] every single household has a latrine. It took only two months for the village people to build the latrines from local materials with no external assistance.”
Doukou-Doukou is a model of how CLTS was able to motivate rural villages by teaching simple behavior changes to address hygiene and sanitation issues. Once the approach was introduced to the community and the sanitation problem was assessed, members became empowered to change the status quo.
“Urban communities in my department have a lot to learn from [the program’s] targeted communities in hygiene and sanitation … this is a good beginning,” says Mohamed Mahamadou, prefect of Mayahi.
With new latrines and hand washing stations in place, families across these communities can make small changes in their daily routines to see a noticeable decline in diarrhea and other illnesses. The program aims to expand CLTS to an additional 200 communities and train over 400 leaders to transform their communities’ hygiene.
CLTS has been introduced in 55 communities within the Maradi and Zinder regions. In 2013, more than 35,000 community members were trained on hygiene practices such as hand washing, use of tippy taps, and protection of food from contamination. More than 2,500 latrines were also constructed. By improving water and sanitation in these communities, village members will be able to better prepare food and better absorb essential nutrients, leading to improved food security.
The five-year USAID/CRS development food assistance program, which began in August 2012, aims to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition in over 86,000 rural households in the Maradi and Zinder regions of Niger. The program focuses on health, nutrition and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) activities that will lead to sustained prevention of stunting and malnutrition.
Last updated: March 06, 2014