Focus on people, not their toilets

Q&A with WSSCC’s Carolien van der Voorden about whether building toilets is sufficient for stopping open defecation

About herself: “I work for the Global Sanitation Fund of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). The Fund is all about collective sanitation and hygiene behaviour change to tackle the sanitation crisis, currently working in 13 countries in Africa and Asia to demonstrate viable models that result in open defecation free (ODF) communities, districts and states, and can pave the way towards ODF nations.”

Q: Do you think the SDG of ending open defecation by 2030 is realistic?

A: We have to believe the goal is feasible, if governments and all their partners agree on common strategies and roadmaps that are based on collective behaviour change and demand creation rather than on subsidy driven approaches which, apart from their effectiveness, in most countries would require many times more the financial resources than are available.

Copy-of-household-toilet-120

Photo: WSSCC

Q: How can someone be convinced to want and use a toilet, when they don’t currently?

A: Some of GSF’s country programmes are having great success applying the community led total sanitation (CLTS) approach. This can really work, just look at Madagascar’s programme has so far resulted in more than 11,000 communities declared ODF, but it does come with challenges in terms of going to scale with quality. We are finding that especially the quality of facilitation, and the need to make sure community engagement is a process of pre-triggering, triggering and strong follow-up, are two key elements.

It is not a silver bullet but we have seen the approach work in many different circumstances and countries. The key as far as we can see it, is to ensure these “demand creation interventions” are really community driven, which is sometimes tricky when CLTS becomes government policy or strategy and so local governments might feel pressured to push communities into ODF, rather than these being real community learning journeys.

Our Madagascar colleagues put a lot of emphasis on the principle that community problems require community solutions – to make sure these do not become outsider-driven programmes. This is not to say that the communities do not need support and advice, but even there we have found that many of the most innovative solutions to deal with specific infrastructure issues come from within the community.

Q: 11,000?! That’s impressive. By “declared” you mean self-declared? Or independently verified?

A: Verification in Madagascar is a five step process where the fourth and fifth steps are third party verification.

The numbers we publish are at the very least based on three steps of verification, where communities first self declare are then checked by sub-grantees and then by our Executing Agency, and some of them also by the additional third party verifiers.

Q: What behaviour change initiatives around hygiene do we know work? Can/how they be replicated or adapted to reduce open defecation rates?

A: We see hygiene and sanitation messages as linked, especially the need for systematic hand washing with soap or ash. The three key behaviours to defeat ODF, keeping toilets fly proof and washing hands after using the toilet and before preparing food are the key ways to ensure that communities are key to our CLTS approaches. As well as being the key indicators for declaring a community ODF.

Q: How can governments be encouraged to take the lead on this issue?

A: I think there is real value in showing what is possible if government dedicates the necessary resources and really gets involved, at all levels.

In some of our programmes we’ve had success in doing institutional triggering, where decision makers, from the president down to the local councillor, are taken on the same journey as communities are and they get triggered to take action in whatever way is most relevant and appropriate linked to their position.

In terms of the president of Madagascar, this helped to establish the national Roadmap towards ODF. And more importantly, doing this at the local level really creates the sense of a movement for change, where everybody is clear on the role they have to play and puts that into concrete action plans that they can then hold each other accountable for.

Another thing we have learned from our programmes in Uganda and Nigeria, where local governments are the implementing agents, that capacity building and training of trainers can only go so far. The real capacity comes from learning on the job, and that requires an implementation budget.

There is no point just training local governments and then leave it at that. There must be a focus on implementation and continuous presence in order to refine strategies and approaches. As said before, there is no silver bullet so even CLTS needs to be continuously adapted and local governments must be given a chance to learn and understand this on the job over time.

Q: Any final comment?

A: Lift every stone, increase the movement, find champions and most importantly, focus on people, less on their toilets!

The original Q&A was hosted by Katherine Purvis of the Guardian and can be found here.

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