The Human Right to Water and Sanitation

By Carolien van der Voorden, WSSCC Senior Programme Officer

Water and sanitation are fundamental human rights, and the first priority should be to ‘connect’ those who so far have remained unconnected, unserved, and disadvantaged.

We shouldn’t think of people as users or consumers of a service, but as Rights Holders whose rights need to be fulfilled equally for all.
While nobody would dispute this principle, the reality is that there are limited resources, a high lifecycle cost of water and sanitation services, and many social, cultural, economic and historic barriers that constrain poor and disadvantaged people in their quest for better services and a better life.

CLTS triggering in a village in Tanzania. Photo: Jenny Matthews/WSSCC

CLTS triggering in a village in Tanzania. Photo: Jenny Matthews/WSSCC

Community-led total sanitation, or CLTS, is an approach especially prevalent in rural sanitation, however many human rights experts and academics are not convinced that CLTS is a good approach to reach people without access to sanitation.

The main objection is that it is fundamentally unfair to expect very poor people to pay for infrastructure while less poor people, especially those in urban areas, receive highly subsidised access to infrastructure and services. Secondly, there is a perception that these people are being coerced and shamed into paying for a service they might not afford, or want.

WSSCC houses the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF), a funding mechanism that builds heavily on CLTS approaches to reach millions of previously unserved people in a range of countries in Africa and Asia. It works with national governments to develop strategies and roadmaps to reach universal coverage in terms of whole districts, states and countries becoming first Open Defecation Free (ODF), and then working from there to ensure that sanitation services are sustainable and that people can move on from basic sanitation to ‘improved’ sanitation services.

First focusing on achieving ODF status is a strategic choice that is very much based on the idea of ‘Some for All’ rather than ‘All for Some’, but also takes into account that, while sanitation is in essence a private behavior, it has collective consequences. Living in an ODF environment has large impacts on people’s health, wellbeing and dignity, and on the environment.

It is true that CLTS expects people to pay, in cash or in kind, for their sanitation infrastructure. But this does not mean CLTS is a no-subsidy or ‘cheap’ approach and that governments are therefore taking the easy way out by making households pay for all the costs. CLTS is based on supporting people’s own desires to change their behaviour and to live in a clean environment. For CLTS to work well, it requires strong and sustained investment in ‘software’. It also requires public investments in hardware in schools, market places, and public buildings.

CLTS embodies the choice to not fund the initial hardware costs of constructing the latrines simply because experience has shown that that is not the most effective use of available public resources and that investing in behaviour change has a much larger potential of ensuring that people not only have access to, but also use safe sanitation services and practice related hygienic behaviour.
Where a right is very much linked to behaviour, simply focusing on the infrastructure is just not enough.

This is not to say that it isn’t a problem when people are forced to take out loans from self-help groups that they can’t afford, or when people are forced into practicing a behaviour rather than making an informed choice to do so, or that CLTS never ‘leaves out’ those most disadvantaged, most deprived, most isolated.

All these things happen, and they mean that those implementing CLTS-based programmes need to be careful, making sure that community triggering and decision making processes are as inclusive as possible, that households needing more help receive the assistance required, and that follow-up processes are designed in such a way that nobody gets left behind.

Read the full article on The Guardian.

Why Using Patriarchal Messaging to Promote Toilets is a Bad Idea

Why Using Patriarchal Messaging to Promote Toilets is a Bad Idea | Source: The Wire, June 2015 |

The struggles for women’s empowerment and improving sanitation are both harmed by using patriarchal messages to encourage construction of toilets.

An excerpt: Impact of patriarchal messages

In our empirical research on sanitation and health in rural India, we have become used to seeing patriarchal messages to promote the construction of toilets. Slogans like “Bahu betiyan bahar na jayein, Ghar mein hi shauchalay banvayein” [“Daughters and Daughters-in-law shouldn’t go outside, build a toilet inside your house”] are now painted across walls and toilets in rural India. Through these slogans, men are encouraged to build a toilet not because it will prevent the spread of disease and germs, but because their patriarchal values should not allow women to go outside the house.

Further, the idea of ghoonghat, or keeping women covered, is used in behaviour change messages in rural Rajasthan. In large banners and in yearly calendars, in government offices and on village walls, the Rajasthan government uses a picture of a woman carrying a lota filled with water. In the poster, the woman is being asked by her daughter, “Maa, ghar mein ghoonghat tera saathi, fir kyun shuach khule mein jaati” [“Mother, when you cover your head inside the house, how come you go in the open to defecate”].  messaging

The poster and the slogan use patriarchal logic to point out the inconsistency between practicing ghoonghat and defecating in the open. In the process, this message associates the use of toilets with women, endorses the practice of ghoonghat, and encourages the idea that the right place for a women are the char-diwari of the ghar (four walls of the house).

Read the complete article in: The Wire, June 2015

Challenges and opportunities associated with neglected tropical disease and water, sanitation and hygiene intersectoral integration programs

Challenges and opportunities associated with neglected tropical disease and water, sanitation and hygiene intersectoral integration programsBMC Public Health, June 2015.

Authors: E. Anna Johnston, Jordan Teague and Jay P. Graham

Background – Recent research has suggested that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions, in addition to mass drug administration (MDA), are necessary for controlling and eliminating many neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Objectives – This study investigated the integration of NTD and WASH programming in order to identify barriers to widespread integration and make recommendations about ideal conditions and best practices critical to future integrated programs.

Methods – Twenty-four in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with key stakeholders in the global NTD and WASH sectors to identify barriers and ideal conditions in programmatic integration.

Results – The most frequently mentioned barriers to WASH and NTD integration included: 1) differing programmatic objectives in the two sectors, including different indicators and metrics; 2) a disproportionate focus on mass drug administration; 3) differences in the scale of funding; 4) siloed funding; and 5) a lack of coordination and information sharing between the two sectors. Participants also conveyed that a more holistic approach was needed if future integration efforts are to be scaled-up. The most commonly mentioned requisite conditions included: 1) education and advocacy; 2) development of joint indicators; 3) increased involvement at the ministerial level; 4) integrated strategy development; 5) creating task forces or committed partnerships; and 6) improved donor support.

Conclusions – Public health practitioners planning to integrate NTD and WASH programs can apply these results to create conditions for more effective programs and mitigate barriers to success. Donor agencies should consider funding more integration efforts to further test the proof of principle, and additional support from national and local governments is recommended if integration efforts are to succeed. Intersectoral efforts that include the development of shared indicators and objectives are needed to foster conditions conducive to expanding effective integration programs.

Discussion on a new SNV/ISF learning paper on “Septage Transfer Stations”

On Wednesday 24 June a discussion on a new SNV/ISF learning paper, namely on Septage Transfer Stations, is starting. This discussion will be running on the Faecal sludge transport sub-category of the sanitation systems group category on the SuSanA Forum and in parallel also on the WASH Asia urban san Dgroup.

The topic of Septage Transfer Stations has come up as one of the learning priorities, because it is an essential part of a faecal sludge management solution in cities with narrow roads and large distances to treatment facilities. In this learning paper we brought together existing knowledge on this topic, and we found out that there are only a few good examples. Through this discussion we are not only hoping to share the paper, but also to add examples and insight to it from your collective experience.

What will we discuss?

There will be 3 topics and each topic will run for one week, from Wednesday till Tuesday. At the end of the discussion, we’ll make a summary paper as input for the workshop. Below are the three topics.

Week dates topic

Week 1: 24 June- 30 June Different options for septage transfer stations

Week 2: 1 July- 7 July General considerations for septage transfer stations

Week 3: 8 July-14 July Reflections on management arrangements for septage transfer stations

After the discussion, we will share an updated version of the learning paper on Septage Transfer Stations.

How does it work?

We are making the full learning paper available to you on the Faecal sludge transport subgroup and the SuSanA Discussion Forum.

In addition to this, we will break up the information according to the above blocks. On the first day of the discussion, 24 June, you will find some questions in your inbox. Everybody is invited to share their ideas, comments and examples, responding to the message. All experiences and opinions are welcome and please don’t be shy to contribute.

On the last day of each discussion week, each Tuesday, all messages of the week will be processed and integrated into a chapter of the summary document. This will be the same for all 3 topics.

For more information please visit the SuSanA Forum.

Looking forward to hear from all of you over the coming weeks!

Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) is holding a 3-week thematic discussion on the topic: Urban Sanitation Finance – from Macro to Micro Level

6349815993_d122d1f5c6_o_mini_5The second SuSanA thematic discussion “Urban Sanitation Finance – from Macro to Micro Level” will start today, Tuesday 23 June 2015, on the SuSanA Discussion Forum.
The discussion will look at financing sanitation in the urban area from different angles – What are current levels of public finance at national level for urban sanitation? Is local taxation a key? What role could microfinance play to support on-site sanitation and how could different financing mechanisms be combined innovatively at city level?

During the discussion six experts on sanitation finance are providing leadership and responses on questions raised by Forum Users:

  • Theme I – Public Finance (23 June – 2 July): Catarina Fonseca (Senior Programme Officer and head of the International and Innovation Programme at IRC) and Guy Norman (Head of Evaluation, Research and Learning at Water&Sanitation for the Urban Poor, WSUP)
  • Theme II – Microfinance (30 June – 10 July): Sophie Trémolet (Director of Trémolet Consulting) and Goufrane Mansour (Consultant at Trémolet Consulting) on the topic of microfinance
  • Theme III – City level sustainable cost recovery (9 July– 16 July): Antoinette Kome (a global sector coordinator for WASH at SNV Netherlands Development Organisation ) and Kumi Abeysuriya (a senior research consultant of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney)

During these periods, regular summaries of forum entries will be posted to keep you updated on our conversation.

To participate in the discussion and to get prepared with a few suggested readings, please visit the discussion on the SuSanA Forum or the SuSanA website.

For any questions, please post on the forum or contact us directly at

We look forward to hearing your contributions on this upcoming discussion!

Estimating the Potential Impact of Sanitary Child Stool Disposal: Policy Brief

Estimating the Potential Impact of Sanitary Child Stool Disposal: Policy Brief, 2015. SHARE. Share_Logo

Authors: Victoria Sykes, Alexandra Chitty, Jeroen Ensink, Joanna EstevesMills, Fiona Majorin

The WASH sector has, thus far, greatly overlooked the enormous potential of hygienic child stool disposal to considerably reduce the prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases. Young children are concurrently more susceptible to faecal-oral disease transmission and an important source of infection because their faeces contain high levels of pathogens.

Based on a literature review and new research, this policy brief describes the potential impact of unsanitary child stool disposal and presents data on child faeces disposal practices in 38 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

It also highlights how the prevalence of safe disposal of child faeces differs in households with access to different types of sanitation, across rural and urban settings and with the age of the child. Finally, it offers recommendations for the WASH and health sectors on improving child faeces disposal to reduce the presence of child excreta in the household and community environment.

Clean India Mission #SwacchBharat publishes new uniform definition of ODF


Swachh Bharat  website photo

The most important objective of the Swachh Bharat or Clean India Mission is to end open defecation forever in all  villages by 2 October 2019 – the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. But how can you monitor progress without an agreed indicator for an Open Defecation Free (ODF)  status?

Now, by issuing a  uniform definition of Open Defecation Free (ODF), the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, which runs Swachh Bharat, hopes to resolve the current unclarity.

In a letter dated 9 June 2015, addressed to all state secretaries of rural sanitation, the Ministry provides the following definition:

ODF is the termination of faecal-oral transmission, defined by a) no visible faeces found in the environment/village; and b) every household as well as public/community institutions using [a]  safe technology option for disposal of faeces.

{A] safe technology option means no contamination of surface soil, ground water or surface water; excreta inaccessible to flies or animals; no handling of fresh excreta; and freedom from odour and unsightly condition.

Read the full letter.

Source: PTI, Times of India, 14 Jun 2015