Rethinking sanitation in the Langalanga Lagoon

In the Langalanga Lagoon of Malaita Province, Solomon Islands, home is on the water. 

The sea is everything to communities that line the lagoon. It harbours mangroves and is a source of fish and shells for food and income.
 


The area’s self-described saltwater people are comfortable with paddles in their palms and narrow canoes on the open sea. The ironic reality is that, despite all the water, many communities are without water supplies and lack good sanitation.

George Faubata at Daolusu community with a prototype (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)


Longtime challenge

About 47 percent of all households in Malaita Province lack access to a sanitary facility, and 43 percent use a pit latrine, according national census data from 2009. 

In 2015, a World Health Organization report put improved sanitation coverage in Solomon Islands at 30 percent. 

“From the time of our forefathers until now, nothing has been done about poor sanitation,” says 28-year-old George Faubata of the lagoon’s Daolusu community.

“I’m worried about the livelihood of the people here…because they depend so much on the sea. When they don’t have proper sanitation, the mangroves are destroyed, the marine habitat and the fish are spoiled.”
 


Communicable diseases transmitted by contaminated water cause kids to fall ill and subsequently miss school. Open defecation degrades the marine ecosystem, and improper sanitation affects overall public health.

Daolusu Community (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)
A well at Daolusu (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)
A well at Daolusu (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)


Innovative solution

Those problems led George and other youth from Daolusu to take on the sanitation challenge at an innovation boot camp.

The camp by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (UNPBF) project – jointly implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women – was held in the provincial capital.

There, George and his friends designed a prototype toilet that controls odors, is easy to flush with minimal water, and accommodates elderly users.

The young designers became budding social entrepreneurs and called themselves Stone Raisers, after their cement toilet model.
 

George Faubata explains the toilet design to then-Deputy Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare at the Malaita Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum on 4 September 2018 (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)
The Stone Raisers’ prototype (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)
George Faubata pitches his team’s social enterprise at the Malaita Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum on 6 September 2018 (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)
George Faubata (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)


As one of the winners at the Malaita Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum, the UNPBF project helped Stone Raisers turn their prototype into a functional, profitable solution.  

The project provided US$500 worth of materials and business training to get them started.

Through the second phase of the UNPBF project, UNDP helped six teams of young entrepreneurs, from two provinces, kickstart social enterprises.
 


The Stone Raisers’ toilet is a starting point to improve sanitation practices in and around Daolusu, and George says he’s counting on community members to help his team address sanitation issues.

With that objective and a business plan, the Stone Raisers are also hoping to dent the youth unemployment rate that is estimated to reach 50 percent in rural areas.

Engaging youth in seeking solutions to tough development challenges is key to sustaining peace in a region affected by civil unrest from 1998 to 2003, a period referred to as “the tensions.”
 


Raising the standard 

Now, more than half of the approximately 60 households in Daolusu have toilets.

“Before when it rained, older people and people who couldn’t move well had to paddle [to the mangroves] in the rain,” says Esther Kwaifo’oa, a member of the Stone Raisers’ team.

“You’d see them and feel bad for them, but that’s how it was. So now, the places with toilets are fine no matter how hard it’s raining.”

Daolusu elder Joe Brandly Wale says he can see that the Stone Raisers’ model is sustainable.

“People have to go to the proper place rather than the mangroves all the time. It’s changed now. Life has changed.”
 


George believes that his community can be a model of improved sanitation and the behavior change a subtle sales pitch for the Stone Raisers’ product.

George Faubata (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)
Esther Kwaifo’oa (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)
Max (Photo: UNDP/Merinda Valley)


As George and his team continue to modify their toilet — making the raisers lighter, smoother and more functional — they are attracting attention beyond the lagoon.

They’ve filled orders from communities near Auki and in North Malaita. 

Their goal is to take the raisers across the province and make proper sanitation as common as the saltwater.

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The UNPBF is currently supporting more than 120 projects in 25 countries, including Solomon Islands’ project to ensure peaceful and inclusive transition from recent conflict. Since its creation in 2015, the UNPBF has allocated $623 million to 33 countries to help prevent relapse into conflict and to sustain peace.
 

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