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Published on: 17/05/2024

!st meeting of the EKN cross-learning WASH platform

1st Meeting of the EKN Cross-Learning WASH Platform, 28th April 2024. Credit: SNV

Bangladesh has made strides in improving water and sanitation infrastructure over the years, but it continues to face significant challenges in ensuring access to clean water and adequate sanitation for all its citizens. People living below the poverty line still lack access to basic sanitation and safe water. The rest, especially in the rural areas, struggle to ensure proper maintenance of the sanitation infrastructure as well as to move from basic to safely managed sanitation (see fig. 1).

Figure 1: JMP 2022 urban and rural data of Bangladesh

The Government, development partners (DPs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector are all working to improve the situation. Nevertheless, they are often criticised for working in silos and not sharing their experience and lessons learned. Despite the existence of several national level platforms, horizontal and cross-sectoral learning is very limited. Similar to other DPs, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Bangladesh (EKN) supports several NGO-led WASH programmes. In an attempt to "break down the silos", the EKN has recently initiated a cross-learning WASH platform, which aims to support collective action towards building a resilient WASH sector in Bangladesh. The first meeting was hosted by SNV. BRAC, Max Foundation, Simavi and IRC WASH were participating partners. The meeting took place on 28th April 2024.

Locations covered by EKN supported WASH projects in Bangladesh

Figure 2: Locations covered by EKN supported WASH projects in Bangladesh

In the meeting, each partner shared their project activities, outputs, challenges and the way forward. For instance, BRAC and IRC WASH are implementing the ‘Equitable and Sustainable WASH Services in Bangladesh Delta Plan Hotspots’ project in 45 subdistricts under four climate change hotspots (coastal, haor, barind and floodplain estuary). The project aims to provide one million rural people with safely managed water and sanitation services. The project uses three pathways to achieve its objectives:

  1. Access to finance
  2. Strengthening the supply chain pathway, and
  3. Strengthening local government institutions to implement the pro-poor strategy.

SNV is active in 12 municipalities to improve sanitation, solid waste management and greywater management services. Their project is called ‘Transitioning to Sustainable Urban Water Cycles in Bangladesh” and covers municipalities spread over eight districts. It involves enabling governance, regulation and enforcement. This includes strengthening municipal-level finance and investment as well as flood and drought management. To leverage finance, SNV is promoting public-private partnerships, working with organisations such as the Bangladesh Municipal Development Fund (BMDF) and the World Bank-hosted 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG).

Max Foundation focuses on rural areas. It works mainly in coastal areas to improve safe water, sanitation and hygiene services with a broader vision to improve the nutrition and health status of rural communities. It has introduced mini piped water supply systems each serving 50-100 households with 80-100 litres/person/day. So far 40 of such schemes have been built and are functioning. A social enterprise Max Tap Water was set up to run the piped water schemes. model. The Foundation also supports rural entrepreneurs to strengthen the WASH supply chain.

Simavi in its recently completed WASH SDG WAI subprogramme worked in seven municipalities and 20 union parishads (villages). With its Dutch and local partners, Simavi adopted several approaches to strengthen the demand and supply side of WASH service delivery. The approaches include:

  1. Improving demand and use of equitable and sustainable WASH services
  2. Increased participation of women and the socially excluded
  3. Improved public sector equitable and sustainable WASH service delivery and governance
  4. Improved private sector sustainable and equitable WASH service delivery

From the presentations, it was clear that these organisations foster a systems strengthening approach to attain sustainable and resilient WASH services, addressing both the demand and supply side of the service chain. Fig. 3 illustrates the approaches adopted by the EKN WASH partners in their projects.

 Figure 3: Approaches adopted by EKN WASH partners

During the meeting the WASH partners identified several common challenges or bottlenecks, including:

  1. strengthening and sustaining the capacity of local government institutions and small enterprises in rural areas after projects end.
  2. overcoming institutional barriers for small WASH entrepreneurs (sweepers, pit emptiers, private water treatment plant operators, water vendors, rural sanitation product manufacturers and masons) to grow. WASH entrepreneurs cannot receive finance from commercial banks, which were designed for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), because the WASH sector is not listed as a priority sector by the Bangladesh Bank (the central bank and apex regulatory body).
  3. lack of an efficient WASH monitoring system and an integrated database with easy access to disaggregated data for rural and urban areas.
  4. lack of climate resilient and innovative WASH technologies and service models.

Based on the discussions, the meeting identified the following priority areas for the cross-learning platform:  

  1. Advocacy for inclusion of “WASH Business” as a priority SME sector for the Bangladesh Bank to become eligible for reduced/soft interest rates;
  2. Creation of a national platform for WASH entrepreneurs;
  3. Enhancing sustainability of the capacities of communities, government agencies and entrepreneurs built under different work programmes;
  4. Supporting the development of a MEAL (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning) platform for the WASH sector;
  5. Exploring new commercially promising technology and scale up successful climate resilient innovative technologies for rural and urban WASH in collaboration with government agencies, knowledge institutes and the private sector.

The cross-learning platform has decided to meet once every quarter to check progress and identify new challenges and priorities. The platform pledges to enhance communication with the wider sector to close the knowledge gap

This blog is jointly written by Dr. Shibly Sadik, Senior Policy Advisor, IWRM at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bangladesh and Digbijoy Dey, Senior Programme Officer, IRC WASH. It was edited by Tettje van Daalen and Cor Dietvorst, IRC WASH.


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