Each year on March 22 we mark World Water Day. It is an opportunity to keep the urgent water issues – from lack of sanitation to transboundary water to climate change -- top of my mind for practitioners, decision makers and the global public. In the coming days we will post here updates and stories from the field, as well as links to some of our partners’ content. But, more importantly, this is an opportunity to hear from you, too.
The study finds that the govt’s rural sanitation programme, implemented by NGOs, was unable to reduce exposure to faecal matter.
No one denies the importance of good sanitation and the impact it has on human health. It must follow therefore that the lack of positive impact is down to poor implementation of the sanitation programme in the study area. In fact, a process evaluation of the programme concludes that the implementation was far from perfect, both in terms of the levels of coverage achieved and the levels of awareness. Over an implementation period of 13 months (January 2011—January 2012), the villages where the programme was implemented saw an increase in toilet coverage from 9% to 63%, but only 38% of the households had a functional toilet. It would have been interesting to learn more about the gap between toilet construction and usage (25 percentage points). In any case, the state of implementation, the authors point out, is typical of the prevalent Total Sanitation Campaign across the country.
The sanitation debate has suffered from a seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy when it comes to identifying the best approach towards sanitation for all.
A good way of blocking progress in an argument is to present two aspects of a whole as a dichotomy. The sanitation debate, in recent years, has suffered from a seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy when it comes to identifying the best approach towards sanitation for all. This is the one that pits subsidies against motivation and correspondingly, construction against behaviour change communication. And yet, in a comprehensive and prudent programme design, there is no need for these ideas to be opposed to each other. I call this then, the false dichotomy in the world of sanitation advocates.
The current sanitation programme in India has at its centre a subsidy and incentive for individual households constructing toilets. This is a programme that has clearly not worked, irrespective of the minister or bureaucrat at the helm of affairs. India holds the ignominious record of having the largest number of people defecating in the open. At the same time, the popularity of the community-led total sanitation (CLTS) approach has risen. This approach depends on using shame and motivate as a call to action to build basic pit latrines (rejecting subsidies completely) and has worked in multiple countries around the world, as well as in certain states in India.
Back in 2009, Ratih Purwindah, a 25-year-old newly appointed sanitation district facilitator, was not invited to sit in the car to travel with delegates from Indonesia’s Ngawi District to participate in the East Java province rural sanitation review meeting. Instead, Ratih was asked to take a bus the 180 km to Surabaya, even though there were vacant seats in the delegation’s car. She also did not get a desk at the district’s office. Five years onwards, this has changed and Ratih is now the provincial coordinator for the government’s sanitation program in Central Java. District sanitation facilitators working with her are recognized and empowered within District Health offices. Ratih’s personal journey is a testament to the systemic changes that have taken place in Indonesia. With a focus on district-wide sanitation service delivery, Indonesia is accelerating access from below 1% to 2-3% a year and catching up to achieve the sanitation MDG.
Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.
This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.
Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.
When we go to the supermarket, our decision-making is considerably aided by having the price, ingredients and source of goods clearly labeled. This allows us to rapidly compare the characteristics, perceived benefits, and price of different products to make what is usually an informed and instantaneous purchase decision.
When it comes to making investment choices for public programs, we do not traditionally have the same luxury of information. The full benefits and costs of those interventions, including the long-term costs to maintain and operate a service, are rarely understood or taken into account in the decision. As a result, public decisions are usually made based on the most visible costs (capital investment required from the public budget), historical choices and the political process.
Today marks the second annual UN World Toilet Day, an important opportunity to promote global efforts to achieve universal access to sanitation by 2030. With a focus on equality and dignity, this year, World Toilet Day aims to highlight sanitation as a global development priority, especially for women and girls who must compromise their dignity and put their safety at risk when lack of access to sanitation forces them to defecate in the open.
Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Group Senior Director for Water, and Caren Grown, World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender, wrote a blog for Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of World Toilet Day. Read the blog below, which originally appeared in Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Advancing equality for women in developing countries is not only the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense.
Gender equality enhances productivity, improves well-being, and renders governing bodies more representative. And yet around the world, discriminatory laws, preferences, and social norms ensure that girls and women learn less, earn less, own less, enjoy far fewer opportunities to achieve their potential, and suffer disproportionately in times of scarcity or shock.
Sanitation brings numerous benefits such as reducing the burden of disease, improving quality of life, promoting the safety of women and girls, not to mention the excellent economic investment that sanitation represents. Yet, to realize these benefits, new approaches are needed that work at scale and promote equality of access. As Eddy Perez, Lead Sanitation Specialist at the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program, recently highlighted in his excellent blog posts, eliminating inequalities and achieving universal access requires transformational change and a departure from ‘business as usual’. (Read ‘How and Why Countries are Changing to Reach Universal Access in Rural Sanitation by 2030’ and ‘Fixing Sanitation Service Delivery for the Poor to Meet the Twin Goals’).