Last week, in conjunction with the Centre for Social Research (CSR) of the University of Malawi (Unima) our news analyst EPHRAIM NYONDO began to tell the story of the challenges that people with disabilities face everyday, in their quest, to access safe water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash). This week, Nyondo is in Morocco, but we will continue to look at some studies that were carried out in this area. Malawi News Agency produced this report on the on-going studies.
People with physical disabilities in Malawi name water, sanitation and hygiene facilities as the most challenging things to access in their daily lives.
Anecdotal results from Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (Wash) and Disability study done in Rumphi district in the northern part of Malawi by two English and Malawian universities, reveal that every single one of the participants in the study is facing at least one barrier, failure to access potable water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
The study which focuses on kinds of barriers that people with disability are facing, involved 35 people with physical disability. Each of them was given a camera and asked to take five photos of the biggest challenges that they face in their day-to-day life.
“What emerged from those images was that many people took photos of sanitation and hygiene challenges and problems of accessing water,” revealed Sian White, a research assistant from the Environmental Health Group- Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
She said participants were not told in advance that it was a study on Wash and they ranked these problems as their biggest priority.
“And it was interesting how predominant these issues were,” she added.
“There is something that all of us can do to address this issue. I think as community members we need to be looking out for the different sanitation needs and the different water needs that other people in our communities might have. Listen to people with disabilities and ask them what their challenges are,” White appealed.
As the final results from the study are yet to be known towards the end of the year, the project has already designed some simple low cost intervention to improve the situation through Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) which Sian White said have yielded quite a lot of positive response.
She said: “We have seen people with disabilities involved in designing their own toilets and sanitation facilities that best suit their own needs.”
Among the proposed designs for the sanitation facilities include; a simple stool or a chair with a hole which a person with disability can sit on while using the toilet and user-friendly water sanitation facilities.”So this is hopefully not one-size-fits all model,” she added.
She also mentioned that some communities in Rumphi have formed disability support groups of local savings and loan society where the proceeds finance building toilets for people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the Chairperson for Lilongwe District Disability Forum, Juma Mkandawire also a research assistant in the project has emphasized that communities must wake up and begin to support people with disability by having in their homes or communities a water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that people with physical disability can find user-friendly.
“We need to wake up, we must start to build toilets and sanitation facilities which are user-friendly to people with disability so that they don’t put their lives at risk when they use or try to access them,” he said. “The problem is huge in the country as the study has established. Because of poor structures, some disabled people have to crawl into the toilet which is very unhygienic, in the process putting themselves at risk of infection.”
Mkandawir, however, has expressed hope that the study will go a long way in helping to address challenges being faced by people with disability.
On October 7 2015, through the project, both Sian and Mkandawire disseminated the findings through photo exhibition of the preferred water and sanitation designs and other images taken by people with disability at Lilongwe Shopping Mall car park.
Sian said photos are a much more engaging way of telling people stories, therefore, the exhibition was an act of finding an opportunity where people can walk past, think about these issues and stimulate interesting discussions.
She also mentioned that they also engaged with policy makers and implementers in the Wash and disability sectors to see how these findings can influence their work.
It is expected that if the trials of the intervention achieve good results, the project will scale up across Malawi.
Globally 700 million people live without access to safe water and 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation.
Despite the immensity of this problem there is evidence to suggest that individuals living with a disability, aged over 60 or suffering from chronic illnesses are at a disproportionately greater risk of not having adequate access to water and sanitation facilities, according to the 2011 Human Rights of older persons and the 2011 World Report on Disability.
The World Disability Report also estimated that 15 percent of the world’s population have a disability and that 80 percent of those reside in developing countries.
Disability, experts note, is often both a cause and a consequence of poverty.
According to University of Malawi’s Centre for Research (CSR) acting director Professor Blessings Chinsinga the Wash identified three qualitatively different barrier types people with disabilities face in accessing safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
“There are, one, physical barriers which comprise environmental factors such as uneven terrain or muddy ground as well as barriers associated with built infrastructure such as steps or inappropriate pump handles,” he says.
He adds that there are also institutional barriers which include policies and institutions within the water and sanitation sector that overlook the needs of disabled people or prevent their participation in the design and delivery of water and sanitation related activities.
Lastly, notes Chinsinga, there are social barriers that arise through interaction with other people and result from cultural beliefs or practices and stigma attached to impairments.
The Wash and Disability study began in 2014 and is expected to come to an end this year .
It is collaboration between London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, WEDC, Mzuzu University and the Centre for Social Research and the University of Malawi.
The study is being funded by Australian Aid, and Federation for the Disabled People in Malawi is also among partners in the research.