Water Sanitation Health

Sanitation challenge: Turning commitment into reality

Building capacity to make a difference

Health and environmental programmes in developing countries frequently lack sufficient expertise in the sanitation area. More capacity is needed to reach ambitious international targets; current levels of effort are barely sufficient to maintain the status quo in some regions. Building capacity means bringing together more resources, have stronger institutions, better trained people and improving skills. Unless capacity grows, nothing much will change; some regions will continue to make slow progress and others will see coverage drop in the coming decade.

What can we do?

National governments can recognise that a radical overhaul of organisational structures and institutional arrangements may be needed to ensure that the right people are in the right place to support sanitation and hygiene promotion; allocate money for this overhaul and for training (and retraining) of public sector staff; and establish financial incentives for small-scale private sector development and for the entry of civil society organisations into sanitation and hygiene promotion service delivery.

District/local governments can review the effectiveness of current sanitation programmes and design better and more cost-effective programmes; invest in training staff and finding ways of attracting new skills into the programme; and ensure that entrenched interests are not preventing effective coordination between front-line staff (often from health and education) and technical staff (often in infrastructure ministries or utilities).

Communities and civil society can provide ideas and skills that could change the way sanitation and hygiene promotion services are delivered; contribute to a review of current sanitation and hygiene practices; and start to participate actively in national or local sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes.

Households can participate in training programmes; and teach other members of the community the necessary skills for building, operating and maintaining sanitation facilities and practising good hygiene.

Entrepreneurs can invest in learning more about innovative ways of delivering sanitation; provide ideas about what people want; and speak up about the type of support that would help them to deliver better products or services to households.

International organisations can provide both financial support and information for sanitation and hygiene training programmes; develop and disseminate tools for good practice and guidance; take a critical look at the way sanitation is handled within integrated water resources management, environmental planning and poverty reduction strategies; and promote information sharing, south–south cooperation and mutual support.

We’re inspired by…

… the rural environmental sanitation programme in Thailand
For the past 40 years, Thailand’s rural environmental sanitation programme has been incorporated into the country’s five-year economic and social development plans. According to Luong et al, by 1999, 92% of the rural population had access to improved drinking-water sources, while 98% of rural families had access to improved sanitation facilities. As latrine coverage has increased, mortality related to gastrointestinal diseases has decreased by more than 90%. The programme’s success depended crucially upon capacity building: intensive training of project personnel and technical staff at local, central and national levels; and social mobilization and community health education conducted by mobile units and village volunteers. Other key components were the promotion of water-sealed latrines; the provision of supplies, equipment and transport, as well as government-allocated revolving funds for latrine construction; systematic qualitative and quantitative monitoring of progress; awards for achievement; latrines as a residency requirement beginning in 1989; and research and development.

… civil society and community efforts in Bangladesh
The Government of Bangladesh has long been committed to improving sanitation, but recent research by WaterAID showed that, while subsidies (the core of government sanitation policy) gave people the “opportunity” to construct latrines, the generation of the “capacity” to do so lagged behind. The Bangladesh nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Village Education and Resource Centre (VERC) demonstrated that communities acting together can take steps to significantly improve their sanitation situation. Working with VERC, villages developed a range of new approaches to solving sanitation problems, including the design of more than 20 new models for low-cost latrines. VERC’s approach unlocks communities’ ability to solve problems by themselves.

… AIDIS in Latin America
The Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (AIDIS) has been working on capacity building in North, Central and South America for many years. With member organisations in 13 countries of the Latin America and Caribbean Region as well as the three countries of North America, the association focuses on capacity building in public health, including water supply, waste collection and treatment, air pollution and toxic waste disposal. Its efforts focus on promoting the technical and professional development of AIDIS members and supporting the exchange of appropriate technologies and practices. In June 2002, national chapters of AIDIS in seven countries (Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru) sent representatives on a study tour of the United States to learn about sanitation-related technologies, regulations and current research. In 2003, conferences were held throughout the United States and in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru and Puerto Rico. Each national branch is expected to create a technical division in order to facilitate appropriate technology transfer.

Sources: Luong TV, Chanacharnmongkol O, Thatsanatheb T (2002). Universal sanitation in rural Thailand. Waterfront: a UNICEF publication on water, environment, sanitation and hygiene, 15:8–10;
VERC’s experience in Bangladesh is discussed in Kar K (2003). Subsidy or self respect? Lessons from Bangladesh, id21insights, 45 (available on the web at www.id21.org/insights/insights45);
AIDIS-USA. Technology transfer – key to sustainable development: Executive summary (www.aidis-usa.org).