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SOS child in bath in Malawi
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Self-built toilets protect children in Malawi

Thousands of children living in Malawi’s shanty towns are now less at risk of dying from diarrhoea-linked illnesses after people have learnt to build their own safe, hygienic toilets.

Diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death among children under five globally, according to figures from the United Nations. The illness is responsible for nearly one in five child deaths – about 1.5 million each year, and it kills more young children than Aids, malaria and measles combined.

Every year some 12,000 Malawian children die from diarrhoea-related diseases, according to The United Nations Children’s Fund.

In the crowded edges of the capital, Lilongwe, clean toilets and safe drinking water are urgently needed. But there is hardly any space to build them. In Mgona, about 36,000 people pile into a tiny space near an abandoned railway line. People make a living as best they can - selling vegetables and running small shops. Hardly anyone has access to a proper toilet.

That was until the charity Water Aid and local aid organisation, Training Support for Partners started training people living in Mgona to build composting toilets called Skyloos.

Skyloo toilets are made of two brick-pits, with a concrete slab cover and a metal cover at the back. Waste falls through a hole in the slab into one of the pits, and ash from cooking fires is thrown on top. The ash along with high temperatures from the sun shining on the metal covers kills off harmful bacteria and leaves the toilets smell-free. The waste breaks down into a safe, rich fertiliser which is dug out and used to grow crops. They are also surrounded by a brick wall to give people privacy.

Eighty per cent of African countries are currently behind schedule to meet the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation, according to WaterAid. But simple cheap projects like the Skyloos that offer sanitation and hygiene can cut the number of cases of diarrhoea and also reduce other causes of death in children such as malnutrition and pneumonia.

Esther Sakala, one of many who have built their own toilet, remembers how her four-month old grandchild died from diarrhoea. "I rushed with the baby to the hospital, but all efforts failed and the baby died just two days after contracting diarrhoea," she told Inter Press Service news agency. "With the coming of these toilets, I urge the government to invest more resources in these modern toilets, so that we can reduce deaths."

Hayley attribution