From Mogadishu to Belet Weyne, IOM Celebrates Global Handwashing Day in Somalia

On 15 October 2015, IOM and local implementing partners in settlements for internally displaced people (IDPs) across Somalia joined millions of people around the world to wash their hands with soap at special events marking Global Handwashing Day.

Global Handwashing Day is a global effort to increase awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. The day’s theme is that washing hands with water is not enough to avoid diseases. Instead, using soap – especially before preparing food and after using the toilet – can play a critical role in improving health and well-being, as hands are the principal carriers of disease-causing germs.

“Handwashing with soap and water might seem like a simple act that many of us take for granted, but this single action is a cost-effective way to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, which together are responsible for the deaths of more than 3.5 million children under five every year,” said Dr. Chiaki Ito, IOM Somalia’s Health Programme Coordinator.

This year IOM’s Global Handwashing Day activities focused on communities living in and around seven IDP settlements in order to raise awareness and promote behaviour change. The activities were jointly planned and implemented by government officials, religious leaders and community elders.

Provision of clean and safe water alone is not sufficient to improve environmental health conditions in the settlements, as the lack of sanitation and appropriate hygiene practices is also the main cause of mortality and morbidity, especially among children under five in Somalia. Combined with its water provision, IOM has been actively promoting appropriate hygiene practices through social mobilization at both the household and community level.

At the household level, hygiene promoters have been visiting each household, particularly vulnerable ones, to discreetly discuss water and sanitation issues. Topics include how to keep drinking water safe and free from contamination, how to dispose of faeces safely, and how to hand wash to prevent waterborne diseases.

At the community level, a total of 257 hygiene promoters who have been trained on Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) tools, conduct community dialogue sessions on hygiene and sanitation issues, using appropriate Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials, in close coordination with community and IDP settlement leaders.

As a result, over 50,000 IDPs and host communities are now improving their hygiene practices. IOM’s trainings have placed particular emphasis on water safety during usage and storage, and improvement of personal hygiene - most importantly alerting each other to reduce spreading routes of diarrheal diseases.

Soap, jerry cans and water treatment tablets are also regularly distributed to migrant and mobile populations affected by emergencies, including displacement, to promote appropriate hygiene practices and improve household capacity for proper water treatment and storage. At the time of distribution, awareness raising sessions are conducted to improve awareness of proper hand washing and how protect water from contamination.

In terms of building the capacity of local implementing partners, IOM’s training focuses on monitoring water quality and maintenance of infrastructure to ensure sustainability of water projects, in close coordination with local community leaders and local authorities.

IOM has conducted training sessions in Hargeisa, Somaliland on field water quality surveillance, PHAST, and community water system construction for Somali NGO partners in Somaliland, Puntland and South-Central Somalia, as well as officials from Somaliland.

Refresher trainings have also been conducted in Mogadishu, South-Central Somalia for IOM’s Somali NGO partners in an effort to strengthen their water quality monitoring and surveillance capacity. Monitoring and surveillance in South-Central Somalia is often a major challenge due to the security situation.

In the target communities, IOM has trained Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committees, building their capacity to enhance hygiene promotion activities and strengthen their partnership with implementing partners. IOM has been actively encouraged greater participation of women and girls in the training, as they are the primary family members taking care of daily water-related activities, including fetching and carrying water, cooking and cleaning.