The town of Baras has become the first local government unit in Catanduanes to eradicate the unhygienic practice of open defecation, after 15 of its 29 barangays attained Zero Open Defecation (ZOD) Grade 1 status last week.
In a culmination activity held March 28, 2023, the Department of Health (DOH) announced that the municipality met the criteria based on validation by a team from the regional office, the provincial and municipal LGUs, and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Under the DOH guidelines, the G1 or ZOD Status of a community is achieved when households have stopped practicing open defecation and are using sanitary toilet facilities, and no human feces are openly visible or exposed to the environment.
All households in the certified barangays were also found to have access to sanitary toilets, either through individual facilities, shared toilets for a maximum of three households and not more than 15 persons, or communal toilets for those without space for individual toilets.
Inspection of the households also showed the availability of water and soap at or near the toilets and proper disposal of excreta and/or diapers of children, elderly and persons with disabilities.
The LGU concerned must have a functional coordinating body that addresses water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues, a local ordinance and a functional ZOD monitoring team to sustain ZOD status, and an approved action plan, operational plan and funding allocation to reach G2 status.
Grade 2 (G2) or Basic Sanitation status means the LGU’s schools, Child Development Centers and other public institutional facilities have at least one safe, functional, and gender segregated toilets; the households are practicing segregation or composting of solid waste at home; the LGU has a functional materials recovery facility; mechanism to sustain the local ZOD ordinance; and sanitation financing.
In his message, Governor Joseph Cua expressed hope that the achievement of Baras would encourage more municipalities in the province to address the problem of open defecation and vie for this effective strategy to promote environmental sanitation and a healthy Catanduanes.
Also present were Mayor Jose Paolo Teves III and Vice Mayor Rico Tating, who expressed gratitude to all the residents and stakeholders who contributed to the significant achievement.
Data from the Provincial Health Office showed that as of 2022, about 87percent of Catanduanes’ 57,715 households had access to basic sanitation facilities.
The same data disclosed, however, that only 64 percent had access to “safely managed” sanitation facilities while an even lesser number, 55 percent, have complete sanitation facilities.
According to the DOH, the continuing practice of open defecation is linked to environmental and health issues as effective sanitation alone is known to reduce diarrheal disease incidence by up to 45%.
Where open defecation exists, food and water contamination result in high incidence of diarrhea, cholera, worm infestations, hepatitis and other related diseases among the residents, regardless of whether they practice OD or not.
In poor communities, the DOH stressed, this means that limited resources for basic needs are diverted to medical costs, further aggravating the community’s poverty condition.
“The consequences are far-reaching – on the health, economic status, and dignity of life among those affected – not to mention the extent of resulting environmental degradation,” it added.