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The journey of the Pan-Africa programme

Published on: 09/04/2015

As stated in my last blog, sanitation is more than building a toilet. We are all aware that the MDG target for sanitation will not be reached. By end of 2014, 2.5 billion people did not have access to adequate sanitation which is about one in three of the world's population (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, Report 2014). As a result, much action has taken place around sanitation. One important development over the past fifteen years has been the implementation of the Community-Led Total Sanitation approach (CLTS).

CLTS focuses on seeking to provoke and support collective behaviour change through community mobilisation instead of hardware provision of just educating people about the dangers of open defecation. This in turn builds and encourages eliminating Open Defecation and adopting improved sanitation. When people observe and measure the negative effects of open defecation by themselves, they often decide on their own that they want to change the situation. The CLTS approach focuses on local ownership to end open defecation and adopt improved sanitation and hygiene without external subsidies.

CLTS was first implemented in Bangladesh in 1999 and has since spread to other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In recent years, however, the sustainability of Open Defecation Free (ODF) conditions in rural areas has repeatedly been a top concern in workshops and conferences.

In 2010, Plan Netherlands launched a Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programme in eight countries in Africa in order to reduce Open Defecation, and so lower infant and child morbidity and mortality. Because the programme is active in East and West Africa, it is called 'The Pan-Africa CLTS programme'. IRC's work consisted of focusing on three pillars, namely on the (1) potential role of communities and schools in the CLTS/SLTS approach; (2) supporting in the development of the communication strategy within the context of this programme; and the (3) development of learning alliances within the context of this programme.

In the week of March 9-13th 2015, the very final Pan-Africa annual review meeting took place in Kampala, Uganda. The purpose of this meeting was to share further progress and experiences on the best practices of Community-Led Total Sanitation, strengthen programme implementation and sustainability in urban, rural communities and schools in eight African countries: Uganda, Kenya, Niger, Zambia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Senegal.

The following are the key messages which I personally came away with in terms of where we stand as we continue to constructively move forward better understanding CLTS in line with the overall sustainable sanitation discussion.

  1. Honestly reflecting on the impact of CLTS within the Pan-Africa programme. This includes not only constructing latrines, but changes in hygienic behaviours, maintenance of latrines, emptying, treatment and disposal or reuse of accumulated faecal matter. What I really appreciated was the openness and sincere reflection on these issues in the Pan-Africa programme. We spent time reflecting on innovative solutions around creating more effective CLTS.
  2. Reflecting on the further potential role of sanitation marketing within the programme. Although the scope of the sanitation marketing activities within this programme is limited, almost all Plan Country Offices are implementing some level of sanitation marketing activities. In Ethiopia for example there are sanitation marketing centres which have already been established by Natural Leaders and improving latrine standards by providing latrine slabs and hand washing facilities. It will also promote better latrines and will help people to climb the sanitation and hygiene ladders. Another example is Plan Uganda which has designed a range of activities around hygiene promotion, sanitation marketing and cooperation with local organisations such as agricultural groups, etc. to improve sustainability. These are just a few examples, in the Pan-Africa countries and it is fair to say that there is a variety of interesting development around sanitation marketing.
  3. Strengthening ODF sustainability through integrating Village Savings/Loan Associations (VSLA) into sanitation promotion. These associations can help to provide a basis of funds in the further development of sanitation marketing and therefore scaling up of the programme.
  4. Conducting ODF re-verification. This aspect came out clearly in the meeting reflecting on the importance of true sustainability of the programme. It is important to empower local government and community structures to conduct post-ODF activities to ensure sustainable livelihoods.
  5. Focus on sustainability. There is now a serious effort to critically reflect the sustainability of the programmes. An impact evaluation, of the Pan-Africa programme will take place this year. These efforts show true passion to not only understand how the CLTS tool works best under which conditions but also how it can add to the overall sustainability of rural sanitation.

Moving forward...

The Pan-Africa programme has come a long way from starting off as an implementation programme around CLTS to one which focuses on cross learning amongst countries and critically thinking around aspects that can be improved. Over the years, we at IRC have consistently focused, in workshops and conferences, on key issues and challenges around sustainable sanitation. We consider that there should be minimum criteria to define a sustainable sanitation service which include:

  • Access: the service provides access to sanitary latrines that are able to separate the user from the excreta;
  • Use: the latrines are hygienic and used by all, throughout the year;
  • Reliability: the latrines are maintained, replaced, and emptied when full;
  • Environmental protection - Faecal sludge is safely disposed of, or used productively, to ensure that there are no negative impacts on the environment.

The question remains if through the efforts of CLTS these criteria will be fully met. Our take is that only through incorporating all of these elements will we truly be able to move forward towards creating sustainable sanitation.

As we are gaining a better understanding of sustainable sanitation, Plan should be commended for their efforts. Hopefully other key NGOs will also pick this up and work together on services that last. For it is only through critical reviewing together that we can genuinely move forward to ensure sustainable sanitation in rural areas and help the remaining people who still do not have reliable services.

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