People need latrines!

Clean drinking water and sanitation facilities are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, SWISSAID supports the construction of latrines – this breaks a taboo in many communities in Guinea-Bissau.

The first “expedition” to which SWISSAID’s local partner organisation invited the men and women of N’Ghabon was to study the common housefly. That wasn’t just anywhere: they studied the agile insects in the immediate vicinity of the village on selected human excrement. “We showed the people how the flies first land in the bush and then on their food,” explains an “animator” from the partner organisation. We highlighted the devastating consequences for personal health.

The partner organisation in the Islamic-influenced community of the remote village was breaking a taboo. The subject is an especially shameful one for women and girls. But this was how they succeeded in initiating the discussion about personal hygiene and cleanliness.

It was a necessary discussion: every year, cholera is rife in this region in the north of the small country and many children suffer constantly from diarrhoea and worms. Every tenth child dies before it can celebrate a first birthday; average life expectancy is not even 50 years.

The Imam gives his blessing

At the ceremony to inaugurate the well and the first latrines next to the village school, the people’s faces radiate joy and pride in equal measure. Under the mango tree, the men and women, who are presidents of the water and latrine committee, give speeches and the Imam also offers his blessing, “A good Muslim must wash himself and be clean. Therefore, it’s to be welcomed that we now have good latrines and a functioning well.”

Dispute about water

The situation in this border region is complex: in the neighbouring Senegalese region of Casamance during the past eight years the armed conflict repeatedly flared up and drove thousands of families to flight. The population in the border communities of Guinea-Bissau accepted the refugees and generously shared their food, forest and arable land. However, now the people have reached their limits as far as the sparse water infrastructure is concerned. This creates disturbances among the newcomers, who want to settle here permanently, and the old-established population.

With groups from 50 villages SWISSAID has therefore re-routed a project that incorporates the construction of 75 latrines, 50 wells, the installation of 700 water dispensers as well as relevant courses and campaigns. This should help alleviate tensions. The project is planned to last three years – four-fifths will be funded by Glückskette (Swiss Solidarity) and one-fifth from SWISSAID donations.

The dangers of the conventional latrine

Two latrines are not nearly enough for over 800 people who live in the village of N’Ghabon. The objective is for people to construct their own modern lavatory at home. Many families have simple latrines. “But they stink; the flies swarm around and the pits repeatedly collapse”, Mariama Camara, the hygiene officer, warns of the dangers of the conventional latrine. No wonder many people prefer to relieve themselves in the bush.

Several young men from the village therefore had to get involved in the excavation work to learn about construction and to be in a position to pass on their knowledge in the village. The pits are newly covered with concrete and the small cubicles are no longer erected directly above the pit. Another important innovation: washing hands with soap is compulsory.

Cleaning up afterwards is required

Every morning Mariama Camara, who is in charge of the latrines, monitors the squat toilets, cleans them and provides soap and water. The toilets are open during school breaks and after lessons, and every day the pupils’ committee has to come along to clean up afterwards.

Mariama Camara, a mother of six children, is enthusiastic. “The latrines bring cleanliness and good health into the village!” Along with her husband, she is already saving for the building material for her own latrine. “After the next harvest, we will be able to purchase the concrete, corrugated metal for the roof and basic parts.”




  • Project number: GB 5/13/01
  • Costs: Fr. 456'278.-
  • Duration: bis März 2016
  • Number of direct beneficiaries: 12'500