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The Gambia, with an estimated population of 1.6 million inhabitants is unlikely to meet MDG 7 and 4 for sanitation and under five mortality reductions respectively. Although the under-five mortality has decreased from 131/1000 live births to 112/1000 live births over a period of five years (MICS III and IV), too many children continue to die, in particular in the most vulnerable regions of the country, as a result of diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia. These diseases, which are also associated with poor sanitation and hygiene account for 56% of the national under five deaths (WHO, 2010).

The 2010 Water Supply and Sanitation estimates show that over 547,800 (33%) of the population do not have access to basic sanitation (WHO and UNICEF JMP 2010 Update).Open defecation is practiced by some 66,400 people (4 per cent of the total population) (WHO and UNICEF JMP Report, 2010 update). Rural areas present the greatest challenge, where 53,452 people (7%) practice open defecation compared to only 1 percent in the urban areas. Kuntaur and Janjanbureh Local Government Areas, also among the most vulnerable areas with the highest under five mortality rate, register the highest rate of open defecation- 13.6% and 8.2%, while Banjul registers the lowest – 0.1% (MICS IV1) Furthermore, rural and peri-urban areas also have the highest percentage of inappropriate disposal of faecal matter from children under two years.

However, despite the above situation, there is also some progress made regarding open defecation and improved sanitation practices in The Gambia. The piloting of CLTS in 2009 and the gradual expansion of the approach through targeting of communities in West Coast Regions, particularly along the Gambia –Casamance Border, Central River, Upper River, and Lower River Regions have further reduced the rate of open defecation. Data shows 36% decline of open defecation from 4.4% in 2005 (MICS III2) to 2.8% in 2010 (MICS IV). The proportion of caregivers practicing appropriate disposal of children faeces has risen from 81.2% in 2005 to 88.1% in 2011 (MICS III and IV).

The strategies used by the Country Programme 2007-2011 for these achievements included:

  • scaling-up Community Led Total Sanitation;
  • engagement of community volunteers and structures to deliver intensive community and school based hygiene education;
  • training of artisans and
  • cross fertilization of community experience.

The current low rate of open defecation, coupled with the small size of The Gambia, is an opportunity for the country to attain ODF status in the very near future. In the 2012-2016 Country Programme CLTS is also an integral part of the plan developed with partners in the area of WASH. It is hoped that this will help the Gambia to become one of the few countries to achieve Total Sanitation –i.e. open defecation free communities by use of safe, affordable and user-friendly solutions/technologies by 2015.

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