Tag archives: WEDC41

#WEDC41 Part 4: The wider system and the role of religion

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology. This is the fourth in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits. You can see the earlier posts about (the lack of) government support for container-based sanitation businesses here, about WASH failures here and about behaviour change toolkits here.

Nothing exists in a bubble. Sanitation is no exception. Sanitation is a social issue and any sanitation process will be affected by the communities, businesses, governments, NGOs and a host of other stakeholders that interact with them. Understanding that sanitation is part of a wider system and how that system works is a vital part of successful projects.

WASH Catalysts Malawi and Engineers Without Borders Canada held a workshop on systems mapping. The aim of systems mapping is to understand the stakeholders present and how they relate to each other. Armed with that information, it is easier to identify potential blockages to sustainable projects. The example that was given was an NGO looking at a withdrawal strategy from Malawi. They had set up a borehole management system that was working well but were concerned that when they left the system would break down. A systems mapping exercise was carried out and it was seen that the NGO acted as a go-between in several critical relationships. By identifying this early, it was possible to look at how the system needed to change so that it would continue to operate after the NGO withdrew.

Later in the conference, I attended a presentation by Nathan Mallonee of Living Water about the role that religious organisations play in sanitation provision. In Africa, 90 % of people identify as either Christian or Muslim and religious organisations play a major role in their lives. That means that religious organisations can be powerful stakeholders in community systems. Yet only in a small number of cases are religious organisations involved in the delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. Water plays an integral role in virtually every major world region (think about Muslims washing before prayers or Christian baptisms) but WASH programmes rarely consider in detail the implication of religious ideas and religious practices on programme delivery and outcomes. This is an oversight that people are starting to realise needs addressing. To halt the spread of Ebola earlier this year, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, the Health Minister for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), identified churches as one of the “best allies to carry public health messages that require communities to change age-old habits and challenge their traditions”. Wilf Mwamba, a Senior Governance Advisor at the Department for International Development (DFID) is passionate about working better with faith organisations and other powerful non-state stakeholders.

In the WASH sector, we are getting better at engaging with communities and recognising the value that community engagement brings to programmes. However, we need to get better at looking at the wider system and all of the stakeholders in it, and understanding the nuances of how they interact. For most communities in Africa, one of the important stakeholders is probably a church or a mosque and too often we overlook the value that such organisations could add to WASH programmes. Many faith based charities understand that, but perhaps it is time for all of us to look a little deeper at religion and the opportunity that it may offer for better water and sanitation in Africa.

#WEDC41 Part 3: Behaviour change tools to save lives

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology. This is the third in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits. You can see the earlier posts about (the lack of) government support for container-based sanitation businesses here and about WASH failures here.

Wash’EM is a new tool to support the design of handwashing programmes in emergency settings. The Wash’EM team presented the tool at the WEDC conference in Nakuru, allowing attendees to try it out on a demonstration scenario, to understand the aims of the project and identify ways that it could be made easier to use. The tool provides step-by-step guides that allow formative research methods to be applied rapidly in emergencies by teams whose primary skill set is not these kind of research methods. The results of this work, which is expected to take about a week for a single community, are then put into the Wash’EM software which gives recommendations of what to include in hygiene programmes.

Predictably, one of the questions asked was “Could this be used in non-emergency contexts?” The team agreed that Wash’EM could be applied outside of the emergencies although it was not the primary target as there is more time in non-emergency contexts to collect data and design hygiene programmes. I have no doubt that if it is successfully employed in emergency contexts it will be applied elsewhere. After all, it is not only humanitarians working in emergencies that often find themselves with a lack of knowledge, expertise and time when faced with a behaviour change project.

One of the things that I found exciting about these guides was that they demystified the black arts of behaviour change and put them into a starter pack that was easily accessible for non-specialists. Behaviour change is not only a challenge for water and sanitation programmes. Susanne Lee recently identified drowning as an “emerging threat” in water safety. In drowning prevention, behaviour change is a topic that comes up occasionally when we discuss water safety messages. Normally the extent of conversation on the topic is “behaviour change is hard”. Globally, there are hardly any behaviour change experts looking at drowning prevention, though Kyra Hamilton of Griffith University and Amy Peden of RLSS Australia and James Cook University are doing pioneering behaviour change research on driving through floodwaters in Australia.

It would be wonderful to see a similar “behaviour change for drowning prevention” starter toolkit developed. Discussing this with the team behind Wash’EM, they were positive about the idea. Four of the five modules covered in the step-by-step guides would be relevant and they did not think that too many changes would be required to make them usable in an LMIC drowning prevention context. A simple set of tools to collect data on risk perception, motives, personal histories and touchpoints would be a great starting point for drowning prevention researchers to produce evidence-based behaviour change programmes for drowning prevention. While a toolkit like this would not be a replacement for expert analysis of behaviour change requirements in drowning prevention, a basic understanding of the kinds of data that are useful to collect and how to collect them could form the foundation for practitioners to start collecting the data that experts need to design successful interventions.

Behaviour change IS hard, but that isn’t an excuse for us not to work on it. Drowning prevention is in the fortunate position that we can learn from water and sanitation and other sectors where behaviour change programmes have been run for many years. Whether in water and sanitation or in drowning prevention, more of us need to understand the basics of how we can alter the way that people behave when it comes to water and tools like Wash’EM can help.

#WEDC41 Part 2: Blunders, Bloopers and Foul-Ups – Time to Talk Failures

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology. This is the second in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits. You can see the first post about the need for government support for sanitation businesses here.

Shit happens. But maybe it shouldn’t always happen… At WEDC41, over 80 people took part as the audience of the very first edition of Blunders, Bloopers and Foul-Ups: A WASH Game Show. Complete with theme music, a host in a sparkly jacket (me!) and buzzer sounds, the aim of the game was for the two teams (and the audience) to identify which of the WASH failures described were made up and which really happened.

Unintended negative consequences happen in every project and range from the mildly amusing (communities dismantling toilet superstructures for firewood as fast as they can be constructed) to the downright deadly (children drowning in poorly constructed pit latrines). Every WASH professional has a failure story they are willing to share over a drink, but sharing those same mistakes more formally to prevent them from happening again is less common.

The game show was designed to break the silence about failures in a professional setting. It led onto a more serious discussion about identifying unintended outcomes in projects and the lessons that we need to get better at learning from them. Both the panel and the audience willingly shared a selection of failures that they had been involved in, including:

  • A research project with farmers using faecal sludge derived fertilisers that assumed all the farmers would have smartphones to access the developed app
  • A clever technical solution that was shown to have no market appeal
  • A simple process that did not fit the shiny, high-tech aims of the project leaders
  • Not realising that by giving communities a choice about their sanitation would reduce the perceived power of the municipal facilitator who deliberately blocked that choice ever reaching communities

This led to a call for all WASH professionals to be “fiercely transparent” in reporting their work, whether it is good, bad or ugly. There was an agreement that WASH professionals need to be open about where and how negative unintended consequences have happened and learn from that to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. Across development, there is a need for better understanding and more openness and learning about the things we get wrong. We hope this will not be the last time that Blunders, Bloopers and Foul-Ups takes place and there are plans for an action research project focused on identifying practical recommendations for the sector. For more on this, follow @FSM_Fail on Twitter, read our editorial in Engineering For Change and watch out for a declaration of the practical changes that can encourage more sharing and learning from failures in WASH.

#WEDC41 Part 1: The challenges of the world’s number 2 business

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the 41st WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology.  This is the first in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits.

Sanivation and Sanergy are two companies making changes to the state of sanitation in Kenya.  The two companies provide container-based sanitation services to residents in Nairobi and in Naivasha and are using the collected poop to make a product that they can sell.

Sanergy uses a combination of black soldier fly larvae processing and composting to create animal feed and fertiliser.  Sanivation dries faecal material to produce briquettes that replace the charcoal used for cooking across Kenya.  Despite treating faecal waste to produce different products, the two companies face some similar challenges.

Both companies pointed out that it has taken longer than they expected to develop the businesses to where they are today.  Currently, both companies are reliant on donor funding to allow them to cover costs and have not yet reached profitability.  It is a challenge that is common for sanitation businesses, particularly those aimed at sanitation provision for the poorest people in society.  This was highlighted in SOIL’s latest report about their container-based sanitation work in Haiti.

Part of the challenge is that sanitation companies in LMICs are held to higher account than those in HICs, by donors and governments.  In Kenya, sanitation companies are often expected to provide sanitation services from scratch with no involvement from the government.  But compare that to the UK, where most wastewater treatment companies inherited sewage treatment works and sewer networks that had been built through government funding.  Even new infrastructure projects benefit from huge amounts of government support – look at the Thames Tideway Tunnel for example, billed as London’s new super sewer, which has been provided with a government support package which transfers liability to the taxpayer if certain risks materialise.

If companies are to provide sanitation services with no support from government and turn a profit, then they have to focus on the most profitable sections of that service.  For example, both Sanivation and Sanergy treat faecal material but the urine from their urine diversion toilets is sent to the public sewer (in the case of Sanergy) or stored, diluted and allowed to infiltrate into the ground (in the case of Sanivation).  Why?  Urine simply does not have the concentration of nutrients to make urine processing a financially viable process.  This is something that donors are not always keen on.  They want to see a full service for the world’s poorest.

Providing sanitation solutions to the poorest people in society requires alternative sources of income, and sustainable sanitation through processing faecal material into valuable and saleable resources can offer part of the solution.  However, wherever in the world sanitation businesses are based, if they are to succeed, we need to recognise the huge value that comes from the support of institutions such as governments.  We need to understand that whilst private companies play an important role in providing sanitation for all, we cannot expect them to do it alone.