AfricaSan "Making Sanitation for All a Reality in Africa"

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I attended the AfricaSan (Africa Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene) convened by the Government of Senegal and AMCOW in Dakar in May. The conference brought together national government ministers and officials, as well as implementation partners, programme managers and teams, and sanitation and hygiene specialists, to discuss opportunities and challenges for Making Sanitation for All a Reality in Africa by 2030.

1. The Vision
1/5th of people living in Africa still practice open defecation as their method of sanitation. The Ngor declaration on sanitation and hygiene, made at the end of AfricaSan, contains the vision that universal access to sanitation and hygiene and open defecation eliminated by 2030.

2. Getting organized
Previously the eThekwini Declaration led to 42 African countries prioritizing sanitation and monitoring progress towards fulfilling the commitments made. Of these 30 countries produced action plans to achieve the commitments. Achieving the Ngor vision requires greater effort and organisation to ensure universal access to sanitation in all countries. The Ngor Declaration calls on all key stakeholders to play their role in achieving the vision – AMCOW, training institutions, research institutions, civil society, traditional institutions, religious leaders, faith based organisations, private sector, development backs, donors and partners. 

3. Build support
AMOCW calls on research institutes to in Africa to strengthen the evidence base and develop innovative locally appropriate solutions to maximize investments in sanitation and hygiene.Exchanging knowledge on strategies is one way to build support and assist decision-makers to achieve the vision.

The day before the conference started the Knowledge Hub and WSSCC convened a Learning and Sharing Day in order to consolidate our learning on CLTS, capture innovations and best practices, and focused on areas where, globally, the sector has the least evidence of what is working to sustain improved sanitation and hygiene practices at scale including on themes on open-defecation free sustainability and sanitation financing. We identified a number of aspects of sustainability – behaviours, conditions and facilities necessary to sustain ODF that require further consideration or investigation in order to safeguard ODF status.This learning was developed in the Knowledge Hub’s session on Sustainability and CLTS - we took stock of what we know as a sector about sustainability including key challenges and lessons around sustainability based on recent research and implementation.

4. Do we know enough to turn decisions into actions?
The Declaration makes commitments for equity and sustainability, resources (HR and budget), priority in national plans, leadership and coordination, WASH in public institutions/spaces, facilitating the private sector as well as M&E and learning. As one of the presenters noted that ‘in this room we have the answers’, and there were man

Understanding behavior: In the ‘Handwashing think-tank’ we heard how to disrupt old habits, create new social norms and then how to stabilize these norms in communities so that the behavior because automatic. And despite all the research and evidence that exists, the difficulties in achieving successful at-scale sanitation and hygiene programmes were noted. 

Developing a learning WASH sector: Better knowledge management and learning within the sector is a shared challenge for us all. In the session on ‘New Sanitation and Hygiene Learning Products’ UNICEF country offices from the East and Southern Africa region presented Field Notes documenting a range on innovations in their programme – from CLTS micro-planning, implementing CLTS in fragile contexts, mobile to web monitoring, and sanitation in small towns.

Aspirational Hardware: In the session on ‘Building sanitation service supply to meet demand’ we heard about the Mrembo (the beautiful one) wall-mounted handwashing station that includes a mirror. The station was designed based on consumer centred design: people want to use it – wash their face as well as hands – and is aspirational so that it looks like spent money on it.

Supply chains: In the session on ‘Demand creation’, we heard how various products and strategies for improved sanitation have been developed to increase the pool of services/products available to underserved populations. Players have developed technical capacity, designs, services and products to create demand for improved sanitation. Chief Macha from Zambia spoke about engaging traditional leaders and the need for improved political champions.

Last mile distribution: People practicing open defecation are mostly in rural areas, in the session ‘Building sanitation service supply to meet demand’ we heard how some of the challenges around last mile distribution and sustained private sector engagement are being addressed. Leonard Mukosa – Government of Zambia – spoke about piloting and rollout of affordable latrine options through sanitation marketing in rural Zambia, where efforts have focused on facilitating the private sector, developing the capacity of local artisans and community champions and training marketeers.

Turning evidence in action: In the session on ‘what do sanitation and hygiene have to do with maternal and newborn health’ we heard that despite the long-established evidence of the contribution of WASH to maternal and newborn health, babies are still born in homes and health facilities that lack the complete WASH package. Turning this knowledge into practical actions remains a hurdle in public institutions.

In the side event WASH BAT – Experiences with Sanitation Bottleneck Analysis we learned more about how the WASH Bottleneck Analysis Tool (WASH BAT) has been applied to sanitation and hygiene sector in the region to improve the enabling environment for programmes (including in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Sudan)

5. Achieving the vision
Whilst recognising and celebrating the commitment to achieve the targets set out in the Ngor Declaration, achieving the vision requires  ‘one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration’, sticking to plans, eliminating distractions, organising ourselves for action and holding each other accountable. Improving knowledge management is one way to respond to the shared challenge the Ngor Declaration presents. If improved knowledge, evidence and learning is at the heart of what we do in the WASH sector, collectively we will be well positioned to help deliver change for the poorest and most vulnerable people.

Sue Cavill is an independent WASH consultant.

Date: 15 June 2015
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