Here’s a quick challenge. I’ll give you a few seconds to list the first items you think of when it comes to emergency aid for children...
Perhaps you got emergency food supplies...clean water, medical equipment, and emergency shelter...but did you think of latrines? AKA toilets—that can be used by everyone. Especially children with disabilities.
Accessible-friendly toilets for everyone are something we take for granted in New Zealand. So, it’s not often an essential many people think of when it comes to supporting children in emergencies. But it’s a critical item that gives children with disabilities independence, dignity, and makes life just a bit easier to cope with especially when hit by a crisis. In fact, we make sure to include them in our emergency supplies list—with around 2,500 disability-friendly latrines dispatched each year.
The most marginalised
Children with disabilities are one of the most marginalised groups in society, facing daily discrimination that restricts them from accessing their rights and living fully on an equal basis within their community. Sadly, these circumstances are exacerbated in emergencies or disasters, especially concerning their access to sanitation services.
During a humanitarian response, the sanitation facilities in displacement and refugee camps typically involve the construction of latrines that can only be used if someone can squat. Making it unsuitable and unsafe for children with mobility or vision impairments.
That’s why we designed an innovative solution.
With help from UNICEF partners, we created an add-on that can attach to the squatting latrines and transforms them into a seat off the ground. The higher sitting latrine is also installed with support rails so kids with disabilities have the handrails to balance.
They are also used by those with chronic illnesses, elderly, or pregnant women.
The latrine attachment was first piloted in refugee camps in Bangladesh with the help of UNICEF partner CARE Bangladesh. For kids living with a disability, it was a relief knowing they were being supported in something that is often overlooked.
A new independence
In one of the refugee camps, lives 14 year-old Mohammad. He lives with his parents and little brother. He has an intellectual impairment and is unable to speak. They had to walk for 20 minutes to the top of a hill to find the nearest latrine.
Mohammad always needs his mother, Monira Begum, to help him. “My son gets scared very easily,” says Monira, “He doesn’t understand a lot of things. I support him while he is using the latrine, so he doesn’t get scared.”
After UNICEF installed a disability-friendly latrine near their shelter, supporting Mohammad to use the latrine has become much more manageable.
“He can hold the handles on the sides of the latrine when he sits, so I don’t have to hold him. I can just make sure he’s okay that way,” says Monira.
In a nearby camp, six-year-old Rajuma attends classes at a learning centre every day.
She was born with an impairment that affects her knees but can get to class with the help of a friend and classmate. “My knees are always biting me,” she says, indicating that her knees are constantly stinging.
Rajuma’s learning centre has an accessible latrine installed nearby. “I can use this latrine and my knees won’t bite me,” she says, “I can also wash easily with the hand-shower.”
Four of Rajuma’s classmates, Jonayed, Nurul Amin, Harun, and Yunus, have used the accessible latrine and have grown to better understand the difficulties in the lives of Rajuma and other children with disabilities.
Mohammad (left) sits next to his friend Omar.
Mohammad who is 10-years-old was born with a physical impairment affecting his feet, making it extremely difficult for him to walk. His family fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar and his father carried him for the entire journey. At home, the nearest latrine was too far away for him to reach and his impairment didn’t allow him to squat easily to use a regular latrine. Before a disability-friendly latrine was installed near his shelter, he used a bucket which had to be regularly cleaned by his family.
Now, Mohammad can make his way to the nearby disability-friendly latrine on his own. Although sometimes when it rains, he says he needs extra help when the ground is wet.
“With my feet, it is very hard for me to use a normal latrine,” says Mohammad, “but I can sit on my new latrine without hurting myself.”
So, while a disability-friendly latrine might have not been the first thing you thought of on an emergency supplies list. We hope it has highlighted the range of needs and basic child rights that kids around the world struggle to have access to. It’s thanks to donors that we can continue creating solutions for some of the most basic items that are often overlooked and create a world of a difference in a child’s life.
Deliver hope in an emergency - when kids need it most