Paper Edition | Page: 22
Visitors to Jombe village, Turatea district, Jeneponto, South Sulawesi are welcomed by a banner that will surprise them with its bright colors, but also the rather peculiar message on the cloth.
Apart from standard welcome greetings, the yellow banner boldly proclaims that “You’re entering a future feces-free area”. In several spots around the village, small notices can also be found with a more overt remark, “I’m ashamed and disgusted to defecate everywhere”.
Jombe is one of the villages in Jeneponto where almost a third of its population still continues the practice of outdoor defecation, locally termed BAB. There are 2,312 people in the village and of its 583 families, 179 carry on the custom of BAB on riversides or in plantations.
Jombe village head Baso Padewakkang told journalists at a workshop on putting an end to the sloppy practice by 2015 that the banner and notices were meant to motivate his people to discontinue their slapdash, haphazard bowel movements.
“Rather than a form of pride of boastfulness, the banner is a means of motivating villagers to abandon their casual performance of BAB. We’re determined to have toilets in all residents’ homes in Jombe,” Padewakkang insisted.
Padewakkang makes family toilets a requirement to residents applying for documents in the village office. “People handling licenses or wishing to go on a haj will have to build toilets first,” he said.
Local residents have raised funds to help poor families with their toilet construction. Aid from the government and donor agencies has also sped up toilet building in the 3.76-square kilometer village. “Our efforts have now reduced the total toiletless to 30 percent,” added Padewakkang proudly.
BAB practice has lasted for generations, perhaps indeed forever, because of lack of awareness as to how it adversely affects sanitary and health conditions. There are frequent incidences of diarrhea and worm infections in Jombe, and other villages with the bad habit.
Paying no mind to the source of their illness, villagers just consume traditional drugs when affected. “We’ve often got a diarrhea. It’s quite a common disorder. Eating guava leaves is enough to put a stop to it,” said Sampara Lili, 66, farmer and head of Karambua hamlet, Jombe.
Sampara admitted he hadn’t built a toilet. It’s not because of financial limitations: his family and neighbors are simply accustomed to going at the edges of rivers and nearby plantations. Sampara and part of the village community are in fact economically well off. The absence of toilet is simply a poorly informed choice.
Jombe people mostly have their own homes, motorcycles and TV sets. Some are even installing parabolic antennas and subscribing to cable TV. Nonetheless, they are negligent of sanitary matters owing to their ignorance of the impact of their al fresco practices.
Jeneponto Regent Radjamilo acknowledged the prevalence of this long-standing practice in the region, while acknowledging economic factors as well. According to him, Jeneponto has the lowest human development index in South Sulawesi.
“It’s not just and old habit dying hard,” he said. “It is undeniable that a lot of people simply cannot afford to build their own family toilets.” He pointed out that Jeneponto people who went to work in Makassar, had generally lost the habit on their return to their villages. “Already familiar with toilets in Makassar, they are ashamed to return to casual BAB,” he said.
Access to sanitation in the regency only stands at 56.5 percent. Just 66.1 percent have access to clean water. Both figures are much lower than the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015, of 62.4 percent for sanitary facilities and 68.9 percent for clean water service.
There were 6,711 cases of diarrhea, 1,057 cases of worm infections, 1,915 cases of dysentery and 2,794 cases of typhoid and cholera in Jeneponto last year.
Radjamilo’s records show that today, around 7,494 people (2,133 families) in 14 villages continue the unhygienic habit. He aims to end the practice by the end of 2012. “I’m optimistic about reaching the target with the support from various circles,” he assured us. Radjamilo has also taken up the rule obligating license applicants to install family toilets.
In South Sulawesi, the provincial health office has a goal of increasing the number of people using toilets to cover 60 percent of the regional population in 2012 and exceed the national target in 2014. Meanwhile, in Indonesia as a whole, around 70 million people still have to go outdoors, a situation worsened by limited access to clean water. The country has the second worst sanitation facilities in the world, after India.
Secretary of the National Working Group for Drinking Water and Environment Hygiene (AMPL), Maraita Listyasari, said terminating open-air toilet practices could reduce the prevalence of various illnesses. “Ending the habit can reduce incidences of diarrhea by about 94 percent,” she noted.
Maraita, a settlement and housing staffer of the National Development Planning Agency, added that poor sanitation inflicted an average income loss of Rp 2.5 million (US$265) on every family in Indonesia, annually. “As a result of poor sanitation, Indonesia wastes about Rp 58 trillion annually or 2.1 percent of the gross domestic product, which is a big loss,” she concluded.
The situation has prompted the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) through Indonesian Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (Iuwash) to provide aid for Jeneponto and five other regencies in South Sulawesi in the form of technical assistance and popularization of the necessity to stop non-toilet activities.
Starting in 2011, the program will encourage local communities to abandon their unsanitary habits by owning hygienic toilets, and facilitate access to clean water. “The level of sanitation and clean water access in Jeneponto and five other regencies in the province is still very low due to the practice. USAID and Iuwash will provide technical assistance to overcome the problem,” said Louis O’Brien, of Iuwash.
Besides South Sulawesi, USAID also undertakes the program in eight other provinces in Indonesia. “It’s merely meant to improve community sanitation,” he stressed.