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close this book Water purification, distribution and sewage disposal for Peace Corps volunteers
close this folder Section 7: Scope of disposal system projects in host communities
View the document Overview:
View the document Public health importance of excreta disposal
View the document How disease is carried from excreta
View the document The characteristics of an adequate system
View the document Possible sanitary measures in rural areas
View the document Soil and ground-water pollution
View the document Location of latrines and other excreta disposal facilities
View the document Sludge accumulation and the life of a pit privy
View the document Community participation
View the document Family participation
View the document Role of health department and other agencies
View the document Public versus private latrines
View the document Human factors
View the document Lesson plans

Community participation

A program of rural sanitation cannot be successful without the participation of the local community. To be truly effective, environmental sanitation needs the understanding, the support and the active participation of the people concerned. Mere technical improvement of the environment without public education in hygiene and sanitation, based on local customs, traditions, and beliefs, has again and again proved futile.

One measure of the success of a rural sanitation program is its power to sustain itself and grow. In order to achieve this success, it is necessary to find ways of gaining popular support and of overcoming popular objection. In both, health education of the public plays a major role. In the former instance, attention must be given to the structure and organization of a program which will fit into the local social and economic system. More important still is the desirability of bringing the people into the program as partners. In the pursuit of the second objective, the assistance of a competent health educator may be required. It is very likely that, even before reaching the stage of overcoming popular objection, you may have to undertake the task of disturbing the age-old apathy and inertia which grip the people. For example, the fact that a community is without adequate excrete disposal facilities immediately suggests to a health worker the need for providing latrines. however, the community may not be ready for, or interested in, such facilities, or may even be hostile to them. To insist upon the immediate introduction of latrines into a community under such circumstances is not a wise move. Always guard against doing things to people and for people before you have fostered individual and local initiative, responsibility, and self-reliance on a well-informed basis.

This health education stage can be the most difficult hurdle to clear. Once it is successfully passed, the program will move at a faster rate. For example, in the rural areas of several Latin American countries where community health programs have been going on for some time, privies are constructed almost exclusively by the families, with the health department supplying the necessary guidance and the concrete privy slab either at cost or gratis. In many places the demand for slabs is always greater than the supply.

Experience shows that the most important factor in getting the community to participate is to bring members from all its segments into the program. The people must, however, understand what the program is all about. This may be achieved by working through the village council, if one exists, and if not, through a village committee set up at the planning stage and comprising prominent and respected leaders of the community. Further progress will come from the assimilation and use of scientific excrete disposal principles by the villagers themselves, and this can be realized only if they take part in the survey, planning, and conduct of the program. One should expect that initial progress will be rather slow and that it may be necessary to plan the program in successive stages stretched over a period of time.

The practical application of these principles is essential for lasting progress in rural sanitation. In addition, a specific local project or activity in sanitation initiated in response to a local demand can serve as a very practical basis for stimulating local interest and participation in attacking other basic problems, and thus act as an important spearhead for the promotion of community development.