Category Archives: Policy

UN recognises separate, distinct right to sanitation

On 17 December 2015,  the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution which for the first time recognises the distinction between the human right to water and the human right to sanitation. The resolution also highlights the gender-specific impacts of inadequate services and includes strong language on accountability.

Amnesty International, WASH United and Human Rights Watch issued a statement welcoming this step and the additional clarification of States’ obligations contained in General Assembly resolution 70/169.

In early November 2015, 37 NGOs including the three mentioned above, issued a joint statement in support of the draft resolution.

Joint Statement from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and WASH United on UN General Assembly Resolution 70/169 on the Human Rights to Water and to Sanitation

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.


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.

Testing CLTS Approaches for Scalability: Nepal Learning Brief

Nepal UNC

Pour Flush Toilet in Nepal. Photo Credit: Vidya Venkataramanan

Plan International supports Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) implementation in a number of districts in Nepal. In this learning brief, we review Plan International Nepal’s CLTS activities. We found government targets and definitions to be ambitious while decentralized planning allowed a focus on community-led processes. Plan International and other sanitation practitioners can support CLTS outcomes by providing post-triggering training and technical support to community volunteers, focusing on achieving gradual, yet sustained outcomes in program areas, and continuing to work with local governments to ensure that financing mechanisms for the poor are locally developed and equitable.

Link to learning brief:

Citation: Community-led Total Sanitation in Nepal: Findings from an Implementation Case Study. Venkataramanan, Vidya, Alexandra Shannon, and Jennifer Bogle. 2015. Chapel Hill, USA: The Water Institute at UNC.

New Video Offers Five Lessons for Sanitation Policy and Practice

A new video from Plan International and the Water Institute at UNC offers a preview of five exciting lessons on sanitation policy and practice, based on findings from operational research on community-led total sanitation (CLTS). These lessons relate to CLTS planning at the national and local levels, its place in national sanitation systems, and the importance of involving local actors. In particular, government officials, teachers, and natural leaders can play important roles in improving access to basic sanitation, and their involvement can ensure sustainable outcomes over time.

Interview with Mr. Léo Heller UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, by Guy Norman

leohellerMr. Léo Heller, special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, talked to PF4WASH about issues such as government budget allocations to WASH, steps towards achieving SDG N. 6 and increasing tax revenue generation.

Mr. Heller, thank you for sharing your time and views with us!

Read the interview here

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.

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