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Earthly matters: Health and hygiene matters

April 14, 2012

Gujar Garhi is a rough neighbourhood of Mardan, a low-income settlement that did not have proper drains or latrines or garbage collection. Most inhabitants did not realise that proper household latrines could control the spread of diseases. The incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, eye infections and scabies was high and the local people just could not afford to improve their lives. However, in the midst of such squalor, an NGO called the Paradise Environmental and Community Welfare Society that is based in Peshawar tried to clean up the streets and educate people about the importance of health and hygiene with funding from the UNDP’s Grass Roots Initiative Project (GRIP).

A walk around Gujar Garhi reveals that the drains in most places are filled with stinking waste, runoff water and garbage. The water remains stagnant and breeds flies and mosquitoes.

Then one arrives at the part of the settlement where the Paradise NGO has completed its work and there is a visible difference in the environment. “There are now eight large containers for throwing away the garbage and a tractor comes and takes it away to a nearby landfill. Earlier people would dump their waste just about anywhere. We really had to motivate the community to throw their rubbish in these containers. We had to get the elders of the area and the Imam of the local mosque on board to convince the people that it was for their own benefit,” explains Sher Muhammad, Chairman of the NGO. The Paradise Welfare Society was registered in Peshawar in 1994 and has a good track record of working with the people of this province, especially during the 2005 earthquake and the Swat conflict.

Those who suffered the most from the bad living conditions and lack of toilets in the congested areas of Gujar Garhi, however, were the women and young girls. Since this is a conservative area, it is difficult for the women to go out into the open fields to defecate. They desperately needed both privacy and improved hygiene. According to the provincial government only 30 per cent of the people have access to hygienically safe sanitation in Khyber Pukhtunkwa so it is an immense problem.

Thanks to the GRIP funding, the project managed to install 400 pour flush latrines in households that needed them the most. Dilara, a young housewife with four children, now has a brand new pour flush latrine in her small house. “My husband is a labourer who works on daily wages so we just could not afford to build this latrine on our own. Now we are so grateful to the NGO. The children have stopped falling sick and I myself am very careful about keeping the toilet clean and washing my hands with soap”.

A social organiser who works with the Paradise Welfare Society, Noreen, was sent from door to door to educate the women about the importance of health and hygiene. “I also explained to them to keep their dishes away from the latrines and to boil the water for drinking. I visited the schools as well and taught everyone the importance of washing hands after using the latrine,” she explained. “We even taught them to put their garbage in bags and to throw them away in the designated garbage places”.

The NGO provided the most deserving households with the materials like cement and bricks, and the people built the latrines themselves with technical guidance. It cost around Rs10,000 to make one latrine. The toilets that were completed back in 2011 are so far well maintained and the villagers are clearly looking after them. The project area was divided into 10 zones and 10 committees comprising 18 to 20 members look after each zone. Khalid Khan is the chairman of one of the committees and he explained, “There are around 5,000 households in just one zone of Gujar Garhi and we tried to select the neediest families, often headed by females, for the latrines. The people are very happy with their latrines and the clean streets — the government couldn’t do this for us. There are some very poor people living here and they are praying for us for helping them”. The committees were also provided with wheelbarrows, spades, buckets and brooms to clean up the streets.

Ijaz Rahim, the local high school’s headmaster added: “This is a very neglected area of Mardan and thanks to the efforts of the Paradise NGO, the people have become more aware now about hygiene and cleanliness. The people have clearly benefited from this project and they have realised that it is good for them to continue this work on their own”. The people of Gujar Garhi have now been motivated to improve their lives by working together to clean up their environment — all because of the dedicated work done by the Paradise Welfare Society.