Beyond building toilets: Quality sanitation programming and research to achieve sustainable sanitation

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I attended the 40th WEDC conference conducted at Loughborough University in the UK. In my first time participation, I found the conference a great learning and experience sharing opportunity on WASH and sustainability. I learned innovative ideas and challenges from countries that have similar contexts.
The pre-conference CLTS Sharing and Learning workshop on Sunday July 23 was a great learning session. I was expecting a workshop with formal presentation. However, I found it very informal and interactive   with passionate facilitation by senior WASH experts. The participatory discussion raised several challenges of CLTS implementation, researches and monitoring and evaluation in a range of contexts including emergency situation, urban, rural situation, etc. In my breakout group, we discussed several challenges in CLTS implementation that include WASH behaviour change, the challenge of reaching 100% ODF, and the sustainability of ODF. I was very much impressed by the discussion I had with a participant from Eritrea. I found the two countries sanitation programmatic approaches, and contextual challenges were similar and we learned from lessons from each other that include how to increase very low coverage of improved latrines, achieving ODF, etc.

Currently, pit emptying options have been the challenge in urban sanitation in low income countries.  I attended a presentation by Chris Buckley from South Africa on results from several workshop discussions about pit emptying technology, current challenges and recommendations on the ideal pit emptying machine. The result showed that preferred pit emptying technologies were based on the type of pit that include wet pits with little trash, wet pits with lots of trash, and dry pits with lots of trash. The assessment from South Africa can inform sanitation strategies in low and middle income countries including Ethiopia, that are having similar challenges with pit emptying in urban areas.

Gender and disability inclusive sanitation services were significantly addressed during the conference. A paper presented by Reddy Malini reported a wide range of factors that determine public latrine usage by women in India. I learned about a new study methodology which was the use of dip stick for a survey to understand the usage and satisfaction levels of public latrine, followed by a depth qualitative study. The identified factors for latrine use such as feelings of security, comfort, presence of water and handwashing facility were reported by several studies. The designed public latrine for only women that has considered latrine for people with disabilities is a good lesson even though it is far beyond the existing latrine in Ethiopia, and other low and middle income countries.

There were interesting presentations on WASH and Nutrition during the WEDC conference. I learned how a social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) campaign called ‘Grow Together’ resulted in decreasing stunting in Cambodia. The presentation from Cambodia improved my knowledge on the process of integrating WASH and nutrition, and I learned lessons such as the role of private sector involvement. All of this was very relevant to my past four years work experience as a Health and Nutrition specialist, and my future interest in WASH and nutrition programming.  The knowledge and lessons that I learned from Cambodia will help me to contribute improve the health and nutrition program in Ethiopia.

Sanitation marketing was also given attention during the conference. There were several papers and side sessions focussing on sanitation marketing for the adoption of improved toilets including techniques of demand creation, and supply development. I learned about positive experiences as well as challenges from different countries. For example, there were lessons from Nepal on connecting microfinance institutions (MFIs) with a no subsidy and subsidy approach in India.

The qualitative study paper I presented highlights the complex reasons for families not building a sustainable latrine, and for inconsistent use by family members. Participants acknowledged the use of the socio-ecological model and IBM-WASH framework for understanding multilevel factors. The reactions to my presentation gave me positive feedback about the research methodology.

Generally, the innovative ideas and lessons from a wide range of WASH approaches and research has improved my knowledge that can help me to improve sanitation programming and research in Ethiopia.

Fikralem Alemu is a PhD fellow at Addis Ababa University, Institute of Water Resources. She has been working with FHI360 Ethiopia as a Health and Nutrition specialist (includingWASH).

Date: 1 August 2017