Lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene contribute significantly to child malnutrition in TL

Lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene contribute significantly to child malnutrition in TL

Country Representative of UNICEF, Bilal Durrani (Photo Tatoli/Egas Cristóvão)

DILI, 22 November 2022 (TATOLI) – Lack of access to clean water and toilets as well as poor hygiene practices contribute significantly to children being ill, including from diarrhea, which contributes to the high levels of malnutrition for children in Timor-Leste, said Bilal Durrani, the Country Representative of UNICEF, during an interview conducted on World Toilet Day. 

UNICEF says that it is working with the government and partners to address this through targeted actions under its Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program, which seeks to engage with and encourage every house to end open defecation, build their own toilets and improve hygiene practices.

Out of 1000 live births, 42 Timorese children die before they could celebrate their 5th birthday, which is 300% more than the average of countries in East Asia and the Pacific. 47% of the children under five are chronically malnourished or stunted.

“It’s amazing how this simple solution can contribute to reducing illness and death,” says Durrani.

“Timor-Leste can reduce the number of children being ill from diseases like diarrhea if every household has a toilet and follows improved hygiene practices.”

From 2007 to 2019, UNICEF has helped over 238, 635 persons belonging to 40,956 households to stop open defecation and use a latrine through the community-led total sanitation programs making in 525 aldeias in 110 villages across the country certified as Open Defecation Free.

“Timor-Leste has been coming out of open defecation steadily since the National Basic Sanitation Policy was enacted in 2012. We have only 18% of households with open defecation status as per 2021 reports. However, we are yet to know if the balance 82% are using the latrines as expected and if some of them have slipped back to open defecation for various reasons,” said Durrani.

He added that “slipping back to open defection can happen due to three reasons. First is having a substandard latrine that can collapse due to natural causes. Second is not having adequate water to use and maintain the latrine. The third is when the users lose interest to use the latrine which is unlikely if you have a stable latrine with water. However, we all know that Timor-Leste has challenges with stable water supply throughout the year, especially in rural areas. We also have households that cannot afford the cost of a stable latrine.”

Durrani said that in this backdrop, Timor-Leste needs several latrine options meeting a minimum standard approved by the National Authority for Water and Sanitation (ANAS).

“We can cost those options so that it will help people choose the option which is most suitable to their situation. Moreover, we should look into innovative designs that could operate with a minimum quantity of water. Finally, we must also have a few options for safely disposing of human excreta from latrines. This can be done on-site in remote areas or off-site in urban areas by building municipal-level sanitation services. Two words to describe all this is – better toilets”.

He said UNICEF is now supporting the Ministry of Health (MoH) to help people in Baucau, Dili, and Manatuto reach ODF status through an integrated approach.

“At the same time, we are working with both MoH and National Authority for Water and Sanitation (Autoridade Nacional Agua e Saneamento – ANAS) to develop minimum standards for improved latrines and launch a pilot program to take sanitation beyond ODF. In rural water supply, we are working with both BEE TL and ANAS to support the community water management groups in charge of the respective rural water systems,”

Separately, to help improve infection prevention and control and ensure patients and health workers are safe from COVID-19 and other diseases, UNICEF is improving WASH services in at least 41 Community Healthcare Centers across 7 municipalities with the support of USAID and 15 public places in urban Dili with the support of the Government of New Zealand.

To help governments across the world plan and implement programs to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, UNICEF launched the “Game Plan to Reach Safely Sanitation 2022-2030” which will help plan and accelerate the achievement of SDG6 by 2030. 

This was launched at an event in New York to commemorate the 2022 World Toilet Day, globally observed on November 19.

Today, 3.6 billion people are still living with poor-quality toilets that ruin their health and pollute their environment.



Journalist: Filomeno Martins 

Editor: Nelia Borges


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