Namibia has one of the highest rates of open defecation in the world. From the outskirts of cities to the most rural and remote parts of the country, more than half the population are without sanitation facilities.
These conditions make avoiding contact with excrement almost impossible as human feces litter the ground where children play and water and food supplies are contaminated.
And the impacts of this are devastating.
Over half of all child deaths in Namibia are related to a lack of sanitation with diarrhea, malnutrition, and pneumonia among the biggest killers, while almost a quarter of children younger than 5 suffer from stunting. Open defecation caused a deadly four-year outbreak of hepatitis E in 2018.
Education, dignity, and safety are in jeopardy, too. Girls’ inability to manage their menstrual health on school premises has led to increased absenteeism, and Namibians risk rape, robberies, and even wildlife attacks as they are forced to use the bush. It shouldn’t be this way, but attempts to provide Namibians with sanitation have been compromised by mismanagement, ignorance, and a complete lack of strategy.
Now, Namibians are getting tired of waiting for their basic human rights, and their southern African neighbors have shown what is possible under better leadership.
Reporting from Namibia, Sonja Smith and Freddie Clayton—in collaboration with the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism—document the impacts of dangerously low levels of sanitation and ask: Who is to blame? What happens next? Is there hope?