Banja Woreda’s White Flag

  Ethiopian News - Banja Celebration

Photo: Health Extension Program Celebration, Banja Woreda, Amhara, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 7, 2009 ( -- Banja Woreda (District) is located in Awi zone of the Amhara region, 120km on the way from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa. We visited the place recently and observed the sanitation and hygiene condition in a trip organized by Water Aid Ethiopia and WASH Ethiopia Movement, non-governmental organizations that are engaged in Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and related activities.

The climate of Banja Woreda is mainly “Dega” (cold, highland) and “Woynadega” (temperate). The population is a mixture of Amhara and Awi (Agew) people, with an estimated total population of 104,000. The woreda is very good for raising potatos (up to fifteen types), bamboo, and recently started growing apple fruit. Banja Woreda is one of the three pilot woredas that were selected for a health extension program charted by the regional health bureau.

Water Aid Ethiopia and WASH Ethiopia movement arranged this trip to Baja Woreda in relation to World Water Day (March 22). By all accounts, Banja Woreda has been very successful in meeting the goals set out by the health bureau on sanitation and hygiene. The panel discussion held afterwards in Bahir Dar applauded the success of Banja Woreda for achieving 100 percent sanitation coverage.

Adanech Desalegn, a 16 years old grade 9 student who was our guide to selected households commented “We have leant how to keep our home and environment clean. We have a latrine in our compound; we never had one before. We are preventing contamination of our water with bacteria which could cause disease; I believe this is helping us to stay healthy.” She is an outstanding student and has a dream of one day becoming a doctor and helping her country. We asked her if she noticed any change in the way they live. Adanech explained “after we got the health lessons, we have a clean house and clean kitchen. It is a traditional kitchen but it is well ventilated kitchen, one that is capable of discharging the carbon dioxide that affects the health of our mothers. Every child is going to school and early marriage is prohibited. I believe this is a huge change.”

Banja Woreda became very successful in this project with the help of health extension workers who started the program three years ago. Health extension workers had sixteen goals to achieve. And among these, seven are directly related to sanitation and hygiene. The extension program saved children and mothers from dying from preventable diseases. Most of the people we met in the Woreda appreciate the benefit they got from the health program and the change it has brought into their lives. 

“There are no children dying from hygiene related diseases. We tell them the benefit of the health package and show them how to do things. And we assist them in whatever thing they need”, said one of the health extension workers to

Ethiopia News - Banja    Ethiopian News - Banja

Photos: A well-kept hous compound (left) and kitchen (right) in Banja Woreda

The motto of Banja Woreda is "Our Health is in Our Hand”. Every household has a clean latrine and well-kept compound. They keep their kitchen fairly clean, and their living areas are separate from cattle area. However, residents could not keep their personal hygiene up to the standard due to shortage of water. The coverage of clean water in Banja is still 28%. This has held the community from attaining the highest level of hygiene and sanitation possible.

The woreda health bureau credits the success of the sanitation and hygiene program to an innovative scheme where Kebeles are awarded a "white flag" when they reach certain level of success on sanitation and hygiene and a "black flag" when they fail.    

Ato Worku Fentahun, head of the woreda health bureau, said during the panel discussion “we selected a few kebeles from our woreda and worked on the health extension intensively. We came up with a strategy of rewarding “white flag” for those who achieved full coverage of the health package which is mostly related to hygiene and sanitation. Then, one by one, we covered all the 25 kebeles in the woreda.”

The white flag reward symbolizes cleanliness. The health extension workers will hoist the white flag at a central place of the kebele with the help of civic and religious leaders and citizens of the society. The first kebeles that received the “white flag” served as role models for those that did not receive it. The kebeles that did not get the white flag became embarrassed and started asking for some time so they can also meet the health extension program standards, rather than receiving the black flag.

After some sustained effort by health extension workers, all kebeles of the woreda finally attained full sanitation coverage and continued working on other health objectives of the extension program. Whenever there is a weak spot on sanitation, the white flag is lowered so people will ask why and make every effort to live up to the hygiene and sanitation program standards. Every member of the society realizes that their health is in their hands. They have managed to avoid most preventable diseases, which are the major causes of death for children and mothers. 

Four million people, including 250,000 children, die world-wide every year from hygiene and sanitation related diseases.  



This article was written by Eden Habtamu reporting for from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to If reprinted on a website, we ask that you place this active link: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to



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