Islamic Relief has helped to improve sanitation in a community in the Philippines.

A small community on Bantayan island, off the coast of Cebu, has been declared a Zero-Open Defecation zone by the local government, following Islamic Relief’s efforts to improve sanitation.

The assessment team was made up of local government officials, health inspectors and health specialists in the community. Here, they are accompanied by Oxfam and Islamic Relief staff.

The assessment team was made up of local government officials, health inspectors and health specialists in the community. Here, they are accompanied by Oxfam and Islamic Relief staff.

Government officers visited the community of Barangay Obo-ob, where 497 families live, to assess the area after Islamic Relief worked with local people on ways to improve sanitation. The government’s assessment team randomly sampled ten per cent of the local population to check if toilets had been built or if they were using a relative’s facilities. They also checked if households were washing their hands with soap and water after using the toilet, and were properly disposing of nappies. They also checked the open areas to check they were no longer being used as toilets.

Islamic Relief’s country director for the Philippines, Syed Shahnawaz Ali said: “People often feel uncomfortable talking about open defecation as it’s embarrassing for most, but we mustn’t shy away from these topics when ending the practice can make a real difference to people. Open defecation can cause many in the community to get sick. This also has an impact on a family’s livelihood because people are unable to work.”

The project, funded by Unicef, sees Islamic Relief working with 13,300 households – roughly 59,000 people – to improve sanitation. The scheme was launched following research that found 94 per cent of those surveyed practiced open defecation because they did not have a toilet at home. The survey, carried out by Reach, after typhoon Haiyan in 2013, discovered that around 17.3 per cent of homes in Bantayan and Daanbantayan areas were relieving themselves outside.

Islamic Relief’s country director for the Philippines, Syed Shahnawaz Ali said: “This is certainly a landmark achievement not just for the community but also for the province of Cebu. We believe Obo-ob might be the first zero-open defecation community in the entire province.”

Citing behavior change group work and the sharing of designs for low-cost toilets as the main reasons for their success, Syed Shahnawaz Ali added that there had been plenty of events to bring the community together. These included a toilet makeover contest on World Toilet Day, in November last year.

Once a community is declared as a Zero Open-Defecation Zone, a celebration is organised and an official sign unveiled. This sign will be placed at the entrance of the community to make the status known to visitors.

According to Unicef, around 1,800 children aged five and younger die every day across the world because of poor sanitation. In the Philippines, around eight million people practice open defecation.