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"From the ruins of years of war and genocide, Rwanda has moved to improve household access to hygienic sanitation facilities faster than in any country in Sub-Saharan Africa".

Around 30 percent of the national budget of Rwanda is made available to district authorities. This high share makes Rwanda a front-runner in Africa, Stephan Klingebiel and Timo Mahn, two German banking specialists write in the June 2011 edition of Development and Cooperation, Vol. 38.2011:6. In only a few years, the country has considerably improved its public financial management. And the reform impetus started in the country itself. Donors helped to mobilise reform forces, but no one questions Rwanda’s leading role.

A similar drive can be reported on sanitation. ‘From the ruins of years of war and genocide, Rwanda has moved to improve household access to hygienic sanitation  facilities faster than in any country in Sub-Saharan Africa””, writes Nitin Jain in the July 2011 Getting Africa to meet the sanitation MDG: Lessons from Rwanda.[1]. And from my four days in Rwanda during the AfricaSan3 Conference I can confirm this reality. I had talks with a national planner who finances district level Training of Trainers on Sanitation and Hygiene, district level officials who were trained and Community Mobilisers who trained village level Community Health Workers. I also visited and talked to the Community Hygiene Club in Rwanagala umudugudu (village) in Kazence cell, in sector Ntamara, in district Bugesera, Easter Province, some 30 kilometres out of the capital Kigali.

Rwanda sanitation programme scores better than many richer African countries

The very first Tuesday morning of the conference Johnson Nkusi, CEO of the Rwandan Environmental  NGO Forum, Rwanda brought me in contact with Mr. Jackson Mugisha. Jackson, Environment Facilitator of the Ministry of Local Government in Kigali, Rwanda. His ministry is implementing the national sanitation and hygiene policies from various ministries at district and local level. He is integrating environmental issues in the national planning and budget, including sanitation and hygiene. Every three months he helps organise three to five day training sessions for new local authority staff, 50 to 60 persons at the time. They are in turn training community health workers. 

I mentioned to both that I would be interested in doing a reality field check on the sanitation situation on the Friday on which I could write one or more stories with pictures for our web site and our Source news and feature service. They were keen to organise this field trip for me.

Impact at the district level

In the next few days various people from various districts in Rwanda collected materials from our stand, listened to my introduction on our products and services and my plans for the field trip. I interviewed some of them. They confirmed that they had received the training of trainers that Jackson had organised and financed.

Charles Kwabayo is chairing the Dusukure PHAST Cooperative in Burere District in the Northern Province that covers 336,800 people in 567 villages. They have done 36 Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Training of trainers workshops throughout the district in two rounds of 12 days each who in turn trained 3,400 households in good sanitation and hygiene behaviour since 2008. Around 1,000 farms are using Ecosan fertilizers for their crops. They also trained 124 schools in PHAST.

Sophy Mategego (see picture AfricSan 012.jpg) is Social Mobiliser in the WASH project in the Rubaru district responsible for 525 villages. Her colleague Fidele Nzejimana is doing the same work in the Musanze district covering 432 villages. 

Socail mobiliser Rwanda

Sophy Mategego at the IRC stand. Photo: IRC/Dick de Jong

They do two visits per week and spend two days per village training the community WASH teams at the sector level that in turn are sensitising the communities on hygiene. In Rwanda the cell is the lowest level administration for a group of villages.

Three one-week trainings

Sophy and Fidele received three one-week trainings in two months last year from the Ministry of Infrastructure that was supported by UNICEF and SNV. They can use an SMS help line at the central server of the Ministry of Health to report hygiene concerns that require immediate action. But it usually takes a month for the Ministry to get back to them what action to take.

Three key elements of success

Three key elements stand out from Rwanda’s experience that other countries can adapt and implement to improve access to sanitation and improved hygiene:

  1. Turning crisis into opportunity
  2. Formalizing traditional elements into administrative frameworks
  3. Forging strong political will to be supported at all levels of decentralization.

We should be able to start sanitation initiatives like the provision of clean water, availability of toilets and clean and tidy neighbourhoods without having to wait  for outside support”, President Paul Kagam said in his speech to delegates of the AfricaSan 3 Conference. At the beginning of the conference he received an award for his government’s exemplary leadership in ensuring sanitation. He told the delegates that he shares the award with the entire Rwandan people in recognition of their collective commitment and participation to raise the quality of life through better sanitation and hygiene.

[1[ Getting Africa to meet the sanitation MDG: Lessons from Rwanda, WSP, July 2011

In another story I’ll explore the sanitation reality in the field.

Dick de Jong

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