To date, tremendous efforts have been made by governments and organizations to fulfill United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 which aims to provide access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. However, in many parts of the world, people still struggle to equitably and adequately access safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, leading to adverse health and livelihood impacts. The challenges of poor WASH are most prevalent among indigenous societies and in peri-urban and urban slums of low- and middle-income countries; and they have been exacerbated by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, this special issue deliberates over community-based activities and interventions conducted by local Non-Governmental Organizations in Cameroon which target local communities that are often unreachable, invisible, unquantified and ostracized. We particularly highlight inter-sectoral collaborations between these organizations and international scholars, taking into account specific local contexts with an aim to empower local communities by (1) raising awareness of the importance of good hygiene attitudes and practices (handwashing) in the fight against COVID-19 through sensitization campaigns, (2) co-creating values from sanitation (tree planting in old toilets), and (3) ensuring that indigenous people have a voice while providing them with the necessary support to live a dignified life. The papers also aim to provide key information for government, local and international organizations, and researchers that work to support vulnerable populations in Cameroon and other Sub-Saharan African countries experiencing similar problems related to WASH access and services, the COVID-19 pandemic, and identity.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, several governments of Sub-Saharan African countries, including Cameroon, have promoted social distancing, handwashing, wearing masks, and other countermeasures against the spread of the virus. However, in addition to the population not following proper protective measures, peri-urban and urban slum communities remained particularly vulnerable given their high population density, inadequate sanitation facilities and financial constraints. Therefore, it is important to examine the attitudes and behaviors towards tailored sanitation interventions among peri-urban and urban slum populations. This paper recounts the activities and impact of a demonstrative campaign executed by a Yaoundé-based NGO, TamTam Mobile, in collaboration with Japanese researchers, that aimed to empower vulnerable communities in slums against the spread of the virus. In the first study, we raised awareness about good hygiene attitudes and practices and demonstrated proper handwashing skills. The second study reports and deliberates data obtained through interviews with households about their perceptions of toilets. Findings from these two studies indicated a sense of responsibility, cleanliness, privacy, and safety among users, but also exposed issues of inadequate and unregulated sanitation partly due to poor knowledge on toilet management practices. This information provides those who aim to support these communities with a better understanding of their needs and priorities, which may be relatable to the needs of similar peri-urban and urban slum communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected people’s health and livelihood, placing a huge burden on national healthcare systems. This has equally been the case in low- and middle-income countries that are characterized by limited financial and human resources; concern has been raised over urban slum dwellers and persons living in geographically remote areas that often lack social support. In Cameroon, Mutcare, a local NGO has played a significant role in supporting at-risk communities. In this paper, we highlight a sensitization campaign led by NGO members on good hygiene knowledge, attitude, and practice for prevention of infectious diseases. The campaign, which was held in Bertoua Town, and Nkoual Village of Cameroon’s East Province included knowledge sharing and discussion with residents, demonstration of handwashing, and provision of personal protective equipment (e.g., masks) in the process of capacity building. In addition to prevention programs against COVID-19, efforts were made to co-create value from sanitation through promotion of food self-sufficiency among households, and simultaneous income generation through fruit tree nurseries and vegetable gardens among women living in the village of Nkoual. Notably, the co-creation project was intersectoral between the local NGO and international researchers, taking a bottom-up approach which involved local residents, and targeted towards SDG 5 (gender equity and empowerment of women and girls) and SDG 6 (accessible and adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene). This paper thus outlines an exemplar case study of a transdisciplinary approach aimed at community-generated issues.
The importance of good hygiene attitude and practice has been championed by several United Nations organizations. This has been explicitly demonstrated through the recent COVID-19 pandemic as certain communities are at greater risk of exposure to the pathogen due to inaccessible and inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene services and facilities; in this regard, Sub-Saharan Africa is one the most vulnerable regions. In Cameroon, indigenous societies are as vulnerable as urban slum dwellers because they are geographically unreachable, often not receiving sufficient support. In addition, these communities face identity issues caused by policies which may affect their mental health. Association Okani is a local organization that targets and supports indigenous societies in Cameroon, and focuses on ensuring human rights, equity, and development in their communities. Their focus is to improve living conditions by investing in capacity-building and highlighting the voices of and awareness among hunter-gatherer communities, such as the Baka communities, residing in various parts around the country. In this project, we created toilets with locals to eradicate open defecation that may lead to fecal-oral transmission of pathogens. Moreover, we conducted a semi-structured interview with the Baka on their lifestyle. Participants reported feeling anxiety about an unwanted change in their lifestyle, which was brought on through government displacement. Being displaced from the forest in which they have lived negatively impacted their ‘sense of belonging.’ Such concerns need to be considered when determining interventions, including pandemic prevention measures. This study provides valuable insight for organizations that aim to support indigenous societies internationally, and scholars interested in identity issues among indigenous groups.