GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 March) — In a bid to prevent the occurrence of hygiene-related disease outbreaks, the provincial government of Sarangani has stepped up its efforts to improve sanitation standards in local communities.
Dr. Arvin Alejandro, officer-in-charge of the Sarangani Provincial Health Office, said the local government has created a special task force to oversee the implementation of sanitation programs in the province and spearhead its promotion and advocacy.
He said the activation of the task force was personally endorsed by Sarangani Gov. Steve Chiongbian Solon as a strategy to improve public health standards in the province’s 140 barangays.
“The provincial task force will mainly pursue efforts to achieve zero open defecation status in all seven municipalities of the province,” he said in a statement.
The official said the creation of the task force will complement with the commencement in the province this year of the World Bank-administered Water and Sanitation Program (WSP).
He said the agency earlier selected the province as a pilot area for the WSP along with the provinces of Quezon and Negros Oriental.
The WSP, which will begin this year, mainly aims to end the open defecation practice in the area within the next three years or by 2016.
The World Bank launched the program to cope with global efforts to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal on sanitation of cutting by half the proportion of people without universal access to improved hygiene by 2015.
A program briefer said it “supports poor people in obtaining affordable, safe and sustainable access to water and sanitation services” in coordination with the national government, local government units, non-government organizations and the private sector.
Leo de Castro, WSP project coordinator, said in a statement that the program will work to scale up sanitary conditions in the selected pilot areas.
He said they consider such task as quite challenging as a significant percentage of the population in these areas still practice open defection.
Such situation is prevalent among poor households situated in remote or outskirt areas, he said.
Alejandro said government estimates showed that around 6.1 million of the country’s population have remained without access to proper sanitation facilities.
He said an “absolute number of people living in rural areas are using unimproved toilets and defecating in the open.”
The official said 24.8 percent of these are in Region 12 or the Soccsksargen Region and with Sarangani Province accounting for 18.5 percent.
“These poor families mostly reside in geographically isolated and marginalized barangays. They don’t have sanitary toilets, hence open defecation is widely practiced,” Alejandro said.
Most of these residents are considered as among the province’s poorest of the poor and beneficiaries of the national government’s conditional cash transfer or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.
Alejandro said the open defecation practices in the area have triggered “high rates of under five years-old morbidity as evidenced by the prevalence of food and water-borne diseases.”
From 2007 to 2013, he said acute gastroenteritis turned out as among the leading cause of admissions in local government-run hospitals in the province.
To help address the problem, Alejandro said the provincial government has tapped some non-government organizations and the private sector for the provision of low-cost sanitary facilities to poor households in the province. (MindaNews)