Skip to main content


Capacity building highlights WASH challenges at the local level

Published on: 19/03/2012

The GLOWS approach to building capacity at woreda level has many benefits. Some of the examples that participants have raised clearly highlight the current challenges that are faced in day-to-day efforts to improve rural WASH services.

Ethiopia is committed to strengthen its water, sanitation and health (WASH) sector and is making considerable progress. Coverage figures have improved and new nation-wide delivery mechanisms are being established such as the Community Managed Project (CMP) approach and Self Supply. Yet these important efforts – both involving staff at local levels to play new roles – will be constrained by the biggest challenge of all: the limitations in capacity to facilitate the development and sustain the functioning of WASH facilities. Capacity at woreda level is a particular problem. Many thousands of professionals need to receive refresher training to better cope with the new approaches and challenges at hand. They need to learn from the problems communities are facing with their water supply and sanitation systems. And this learning also needs to be made accessible to new trainees. The Technical and Vocational Training Centres (TVETC) and Universities are stepping up to this challenge.     

GLOWS: a problem based training approach

A special problem-based training approach has been developed by a number of partner organizations including RiPPLE, MetaMeta, SNV, IRC, the TVETC and the university in Hawassa with support from DFID, UNICEF, the Dutch WASH Alliance and the Rain Foundation, and building on a distance learning capacity building project that received financial support from the Dutch Partners for Water Programme and HOAREC. This training is called Guided Learning on Water and Sanitation (GLOWS) named after the innovative approach it uses of guided joint learning at the place of work.

Participants following the GLOWS course receive a set of self-learning training modules with accessible texts, specific field assignments with ‘learning-by-doing’ exercises, and a question and answer section where they can check their own progress. Participants learn in small teams with fellow participants from their Woreda and have contact with TVETC trainers and resource persons from the Water and Health Bureaus through different communication means (internet, mail, cell phone) and face-to-face contact. This approach allows the trainees to embed the learning in their daily practice, but also generates valuable experience for the TVETC trainers that they can use in their regular TVETC training.

The course has 10 modules:

  1. Community water supply
  2. Water quality risk management
  3. Water supply improvement
  4. Sustainable multiple water use
  5. Sanitation and hygiene
  6. Management and finance of WASH
  7. Community WASH action plans
  8. Facilitation
  9. Example: WASH assessment
  10. Example: WASH action plan

GLOWS is helping communities and particularly Water, Sanitation and Hygiene committees (WASHCOs) to assess the problems that they are facing with their water and sanitation facilities, looking at all water sources that are being used, and to jointly develop action plans to improve upon the situation. GLOWS has been applied in SSNPR and in Oromyo (Hararghe) to date with very encouraging results. It has not only resulted in concrete plans with clear responsibilities, but also in action with several WASHCOs leading their communities in improving their situation and strengthening the management of their systems.

The WASH assessments by themselves are also a very important source of information as they very clearly show the problems at hand. These are just two examples.

GLOWS experience 1. Coverage figures need to be put in perspective

Rural water coverage in Ethiopia is defined as the percentage of the population that has access to 15 lpcd from an improved water point within a distance of 1.5 km. The assessments in GLOWS show that this may not give a good picture of the situation as it does not explore real water use. You may find a community with an improved water source that can provide only 5 lpcd to each of the community members. But there may be abundant other non-improved water sources around for which they do not have to pay. The users thus may take water from the improved source for drinking and cooking and from the free sources for other purposes, and in that way are in fact fully covered, but according to the theory still need another improved water source.

Yet the situation may also be quite different, such as in one of the Kebeles in Mieso where a borehole with four tap stands under normal conditions provides water to some 5000 people.  Yet the pumps in adjacent Kebeles have burnt out and now perhaps some 20000 people depend on the water of this system. This has resulted in severe rationing allowing the fetching of only one 20 litre jerrycan per family per day and even then with waiting times of over 6 hours.

Further discussion on water coverage is very much needed where it is essential to take actual use and risks of non-functionality into account and exploring both dry and wet season conditions. Putting emphasis on real and sustained safe water use is needed as this would also make it possible to make a fair comparison not only of hardware investments but also of inputs like hygiene promotion and activities to reduce non-functionality of existing systems.

GLOWS experience 2. Cutting down on waiting lines

Long waiting lines are often an issue in the GLOWS assessments. This may be caused by capacity problems of the installations. A piped system with multiple tap-stands may not be able to cope with the high peaks in consumption in the morning and evening. Different options are usually available to improve upon the situation. An interesting case was a community where the tap-stand with three taps was located at the site of the borehole with a generator and an overhead tank. At this location, 6 washing basins were also available but these had been disconnected as it was not clear how people would pay for the water. Waiting lines of five hours are no exception but these could be easily reduced by turning the 6 washing basins also into tap-stands: a very low cost solution that would dramatically cut the waiting time. In systems with multiple tap-stands it could also be envisaged to install water storage tanks at the tap-stands and make sure that these are filled, for example in the evening. The stored water is then readily available and can be quickly distributed to the users in the morning. During the day the storage tank can be filed again and in the afternoon water is again readily available, with the result that people and often children do not have to wait endlessly and do not have to miss out on school.        


Posted by Jan Teun Visscher 19 March 2012


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.