When Conservation International (CI) and partners first arrived in the village of Miarinarivo in eastern Madagascar in 2002, the community did not have an adequate supply of potable water. Local taboos discouraged people from using communal latrines; instead they used the nearby river as a toilet — and as a source of drinking water. Waterborne diseases such as diarrhea were prevalent, especially among young children.
After several years of health education outreach and the implementation of community projects — such as latrine construction — in the village, the "Healthy Families, Healthy Forests" project was completed in 2008. Last month, staff from CI-Madagascar returned to Miarinarivo to find out if the information and services we'd provided had stuck with community members — or been discarded in favor of long-standing traditions.
Villagers Take Action to Protect Watersheds
Covering nearly 1 million acres, the biodiversity-rich Ankeniheny-Zahamena Forest Corridor in eastern Madagascar is one of the country's most critical areas for fresh water. It is also home to thousands of people whose very health depends on healthy watersheds.
In partnership with two local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), CI-Madagascar implemented the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported "Healthy Families, Healthy Forests" Project from 2002-2008. The primary objective of the project was to conserve biodiversity while providing much-needed health services to rural populations living in and around the corridor.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about the "Healthy Families, Healthy Forests" program.
CI partnered with the local NGO called MATEZA to work with community-based associations, school groups and health outreach workers and, together with the Women's Association for Nutritional Education (EFEN) — a group composed of 20 local women — MATEZA conducted awareness-raising sessions in Miarinarivo from 2003-2008. These sessions provided information on many diverse topics, including the spread of waterborne disease.
Through a participatory process, the community members decided that they needed to take action to protect the river and improve community health. The villagers built communal latrines; learned to practice improved hand-washing and sanitation practices; and planted trees and nurseries to improve the quality of land and water in the surrounding landscape.
Residents from Miarinarivo pose with one of the latrines constructed through the "Healthy Families, Healthy Forests" project.
Photo courtesy of CI-Madagascar
At the start of the project, the members of the EFEN built the latrines; over time, however, more community members became involved and collaborated in the construction of latrines in new areas. The latrines were built entirely with readily available materials, such as bamboo and the local ravinala tree. From the outset, the local governmental health committee worked with EFEN members to ensure the latrines were properly utilized and managed.
Education Efforts Have Lasting Impact
Three years after the project's completion, many of its impacts have endured. According to Madame Dinesy, the current president of the EFEN, 80 percent of the latrines are still functioning and well-utilized by Miarinarivo residents. Local community officials continue to monitor their condition and maintain the latrines in order to ensure their long-term sustainability.
Due to this partnership, the cleanliness and overall health in the community improved. The contamination and unpleasant odors from improper sanitation were eliminated and, as the quality of the water was improved, the prevalence of diarrhea and other diseases was reduced. Most importantly, the community members better understood the links between conservation and health, creating a lasting impact — and a brighter future.
LEARN MORE: Fresh Water for Health
And for the communities who rely on the fresh water and other vital services of healthy forest ecosystems, there is even more good news. As a result of CI-Madagascar's sustained efforts in the region over the past few years, the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Forest Corridor is now in the final stages of being designated as a protected area in which local communities will be responsible for deciding how the forest resources near their villages are used.
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Global Threats to Fresh Water
Across the planet, people depend on fresh water to meet their daily needs for drinking, food preparation, sanitation, agriculture and other economic activities. But in many places these water sources are under intense pressure from human activities such as deforestation and unsustainable agriculture.
An avoidable result of degraded ecosystems, water-related diseases kill approximately 3 million people every year in developing countries, the majority of whom are children under the age of five. The World Health Organization estimates that as much as 10 percent of the total global disease burden could be mitigated by improvements related to drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and water resource management alone.
Local initiatives like the efforts in Miarinarivo provide further proof that healthy, functioning freshwater ecosystems are fundamental to the long-term prosperity of human communities — and give us inspiration to protect those ecosystems for the well-being of everyone, everywhere.
GET INVOLVED: What does fresh water mean to you?