BADIN: Over 50 per cent of Sindh's population lives in rural areas, where villages have traditionally been neglected by successive governments and the bureaucracy altogether. Most have no infrastructure, lack any concept of hygiene standards and are often disregarded entirely by the politicians until it is time for election campaigning.
The Fatu Dedo village in Badin district, however, stands out. Not only are its unpaved streets spectacularly clean, you dare not litter them for you will be penalised by the village authority. The underground sanitation, paid for and constructed by the community itself, has put an end to the practice of open defecation. Youth volunteers patrol the village and anyone found doing their business in the open is penalised and the misconduct brought into the notice of the village authority.
"We have made our own rules and penalise the offenders," said Yousaf Dedo, a villager who works as community resource person (CRP). The village is located around 15 kilometres from Badin town and comprises 84 households with a population of 400 people.
The residents have formed village-based organisations in each para (mohalla) that meet once every fortnight at the village centre. "We impose a Rs10 fine on anyone found littering the street," explained Dedo. "The same penalty is imposed on anyone found to be defecating in the open." He added that the amount of fine is raised manifold if the violator does not pay the fine on time. "The villagers socially boycott the repeat offenders. They are not invited to any social events or community programmes," he said.
A survey of the village revealed that its residents were happy with the system. They were no longer haunted by life-threatening diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid. "In the past, most villagers, especially the children were highly susceptible to various diseases," said Moomal Dedo, an elderly woman who heads one of the muhalla committees. "There has been a significant change in the disease patterns after we implemented the sanitation system." The villagers, under the guidance of the National Rural Support Programme (NSRP), built an underground sewerage network and latrines. Perhaps the biggest marker of their success is that adjacent villages have started adopting the system too.
According to NRSP officials, the Fatu Dedo village falls under the jurisdiction of Abdul Shah union council, where around 85 per cent of the villages have become 'open defecation free' (ODF). "This will be the first UC in Pakistan to be declared ODF free soon. The interesting element is that the people in almost all these villages have achieved this through their own initiatives" said the NRSP programme manager.
Each household contributes Rs20 every month for the upkeep of the sewerage network. The amount is paid to the relevant mohalla committee that deposits the same in a bank. The money is also used to give loans to villagers without any interest. "In most cases, we give loans to people to purchase goats and buffalos," a villager, Moosa Dedo explained.
A long way to go
Once a Pakistan Peoples Party-dominated area, the villagers have now become disillusioned with the party. They complain that after the elections, not one elected representative had bothered to visit them. So they decided to take matters into their own hands and develop the village for their own good.
But the village still has a long way to go. None of the women are educated. Only one girl has completed her primary schooling. The most qualified person in the village is Yusuf Dedo, who has completed his Intermediate education (FSc).
Things are slowly progressing though. A primary school now caters to over 100 boys and girls. The school had earlier lacked water and sanitation facilities, but the NSRP built a latrine and donated a potable water filtration system. The simple improvements increased the enrolment from 50 to 100 students.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2015.