Reporting back from the 37th WEDC Conference in Hanoi- Day 2

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Espresso presentations

These sessions included some very interesting stories and made some compelling points: the presentations ranged from the process of developing IEC materials in Myanmar, metering community connections for sustainable community water supply systems in Myanmar and the wealth of nations as a predictor of the success of community management.  There are good reasons for caution around community management and the research presented by Cranfield University remind us that ‘utopian’ narratives that celebrate the apparent capacity of communities to directly manage services fail to highlight the varieties, complexities and contingencies of the community’s role in operation and maintenance and hopefully galvanising the global community to invest more in the operation and maintenance of infrastructure.

Urban household sanitation

The session on urban household sanitation similarly reflected on both the entrenched economic, political, social and cultural factors that characterise lack of access and the potential for economic growth to generate the resources to allow for people to enjoy a higher material standard of living and access to improved sanitations services. We heard case studies from the 3K-San project informal settlements in Kisumu (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda) and Kigali (Rwanda) on some of the challenges for sanitation including the lack of money, topography, lack of space, siting on marginal land, difficult to access sanitation material and services and lack of information. The challenge of ‘in-house’ sanitation in Kumasi’s compound houses was discussed in the context of landlord and tenant behaviours and motivators. Research was performed to inform the 5-year strategy of Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly to promote increased use of compound toilets in the low-income, communities. The key challenge reported was around the responsibilities between the landlords and tenants for financing sanitation improvements and the need to motivate the landlords to improve the sanitation for tenants as well as demand for in-house sanitation when there is a high prevalence of public toilets in the city.  

Evaluating community management

In the session on evaluating community management the experience of GOAL WASH programme in Lao PDR was presented. The example shows how the  WASH sector can make a critical difference for a sustainable and inclusive services by supporting multi-stakeholder processes to design and oversee national processes, assisting the development of mechanisms for accountability, and building the capacity of user groups to participate in services. The processes presented to empower peoples and local communities to become active participants in WASH services, by building on and reinforcing local governance systems. In the same session recommendations were also made to radically simplify and streamline WASH monitoring procedures and devices. One option presented was performance of community managed water supply infrastructure in Nicaragua and Panama. The lesson here is to avoid monitoring information systems that combine bureaucratic reporting procedures with long lists of indicators and measures. It also needs to be clear who is going to use the data and what are you going to do with it and how will you keep the data up to date.

Sue Cavill is an independent WASH consultant.

Date: 29 September 2014
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