Comprehending practitioners’ assessments of community-led total sanitation

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Around 2.3 billion people in developing countries still lack access to improved sanitation facilities and almost one billion practice open defecation (OD). Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) has recently become a particularly popular approach used in more than 60 countries. It is a behaviour change approach that aims to ignite community action and make OD socially unacceptable without providing any external financial or material support to individual households. Also sometimes perceived as a revolutionary approach that has proven to be highly cost-effective in abolishing OD.

However, CLTS has been criticised for its use of unethical practices and questioned with respect to the sustainability of its outcomes and the limited health benefits it can generate. Based on semi-structured interviews with development workers experienced in the implementation of CLTS in 14 different countries, this paper seeks to examine practical views on the issues surrounding this approach.

We found that despite acknowledging some of the controversies and the possibly limited sustainability of results, CLTS is generally considered an effective and satisfactory tool for improving sanitation conditions. Practitioners initially accentuate the normative importance of the elimination of OD attained through CLTS without weighting on (the absence of) evidence on the longer-term effects or impacts on health. However, a need for various modifications of CLTS according to local social and natural environments was strongly expressed, including changes that go against the core principles of CLTS like no subsidies and no technical assistance principles.

Date: 15 October 2018
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