Each time he patronises this drinking joint, Ernest Jimu is subjected to a nauseating stench coming from the overflowing pit latrine and broken urinal system.
To relive himself he has to pinch his nose to avoid suffocating from the stench of urine, feaces and vomit. With a beer in one hand, he balances one leg to avoid stepping on human waste, with the other hand he opens his zipper.
After passing urine, Jimu looks around to wash his hands but there is no water or tissue for customers to clean themselves with. He wipes his hands with his handkerchief and leaves the toilet.
“I have to be brave to go to this toilet, because of my love of beer. I patronise this joint because it is near my house, so, I don’t spend anything when I want to get back home,” says Jimu.
But health experts emphasise the need to provide access to adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities (even a simple latrine) and introducing effective hygiene behaviours are essential to reducing the burden of diseases.
They say inadequate sanitation, hygiene and water denies people of their rights to live in dignity and that a lack of these basic amenities results not only in more sickness and death, but also in higher health costs, lower worker productivity, among others.
Spot checks in many drinking joints reveal serious gaps in the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene, putting lives of imbibers at risk of contracting waterborne diseases such as diarrhea.
It is even worrisome when such joints are operating within high density residential areas of Area 36 in Lilongwe, Ndirande in Blantyre and Masasa in Mzuzu, just to mention a few.
Mariam Dickson—a resident of Area 36—testifies of the trauma her family suffers when a private bar owner lets faecal matter and urine spill through to her compound.
Explains Dickson: “We usually struggle to take meals because the compound is usually littered with faecal spillages. We are under threat of diarrhea and cholera because of such carelessness.”
She says although she has, on several occasions, tried to reason with the bar owner over the issue, the concern is far from being addressed.
“He does not care and has not taken any effort to improve the situation,” she said.
Which is why, Dickson faults authorities at the Lilongwe City Council (LCC) for failing to enforce bylaws on public health, especially in drinking joints.
LCC public relations officer Tamara Chafunya acknowledges that without proper sanitation and hygiene, even safe water will become contaminated and that water project to improve health.
But Chafunya emphasises that a lack of adequate resources has always hindered the council from conducting routine checks to ensure the joints are complying with sanitation and hygiene standards.
She explains: “We’re not sitting idle. It’s only that we don’t have the resources otherwise we have been conducting such checks everyday to ensure every joint is complying with basic standards of sanitation and hygiene or face closure.”
Chafunya says she also expects that everyone involved in the production, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages will also play their part.
“Ensuring sanitation and hygiene in drinking joints calls for collaborative efforts among all stakeholders. I, therefore, urge everyone that is involved in any way to play their part,” she stresses.
But do brewers of opaque beer and liquor care about people’s well being in drinking joints?
Patrick Kondesi, Chibuku Products Limited (CPL) sales and distribution manager (Centre), says his company recognises the need to seal the existing gaps in water, sanitation and hygiene in its most taverns.
Kondesi says to address the situation, CPL has engaged distributors and retailers of its opaque beer in its rare efforts to address sanitation and hygiene concerns in its production plants, drinking joints and taverns across the country.
He explains that through a retailer development programme (RDP), the brewer is training distributors, tavern mamas and vendors nationwide on how they can achieve and maintain high standards of sanitation and hygiene in their operating surroundings.
“CPL is committed to ensuring that all sanitation and hygiene standards are complied with from the production through to the point of consumption. We’re aware that customers have been expressing misgivings as regards the sanitation and hygiene facilities in its drinking joints and taverns, hence, our decision to engage relevant stakeholders and partners in ensuring these concerns are addressed as swiftly as possible,” he assures.
Kondesi says CPL is currently giving out various prizes and awards to retailers and bar owners who are complying with sanitation and hygiene standards.
The company’s consultant trainer Wise Chauluka says RDP is targeting to train at least 4 000 opaque beer sellers by 2020.
Chauluka indicates that similar trainings are taking place in Europe and Asia where CPL has its branches.
Tereza Chaguluka—a retailer at Chilinde II Tavern in Lilongwe—confesses that she lost some of her customers over sanitation and hygiene concerns.
Chaguluka, therefore, commends CPL for organising the trainings, which she believes will play a critical role in equipping them with not only customer care skills, but also best sanitation and hygiene practices.
“Selling beer, particularly Chibuku, is the only business I’ve known in my life. I’ve educated all my five children. One of them graduated from Chancellor College (Chanco) in March 2016,” she explains.
Adds Chaguluka: “I, therefore, welcome wholeheartedly all efforts being undertaken by CPL to equip us with skills that will help us address sanitation and hygiene gaps in taverns. This is critical to the sustainability of our businesses.”