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800 words for shit: CLTS in Papua New Guinea

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There are approximately 800 languages in PNG! That’s close to 800 versions of the word ‘shit’, and during past workshops when facilitators are asked to mention the word that means ‘shit’ in their own language, there’s actually quite a competitiveness to see who has the most extravagant translation. “e” or variations of the phrase “e”, seems to be quite common in some parts of the country.

But sadly what is more common, is the amount of exposed shit being produced every day throughout rural areas. Of approximately 400 rural villages assessed, safe sanitation seems to have existed for very few of the households visited. On one island with a large and very typically loving and beautiful, pacific style community, the estimates of houses within the small sample survey with unsafe sanitation was close to 99%. Safe sanitation has been a benchmark within the EU-RWSSP, for allowing communities to declare themselves ODF status, in that safe sanitation consists of 100% of the population having access to ‘sealed / air-tight platforms with ventilation pipes with fly-trap’, regardless of the materials or super-structure used.

We are approaching the end of our programme, and we are looking forward to counting communities that have changed their hygiene behavior and attitudes to their environmental sanitation. This monitoring should hopefully be completed by the end of May 2012. All we know so far is the evidence we see ourselves and the reports we receive from our trained partners in the field.

I have witnessed five or six ODF communities in the last three weeks during my travels to three different provinces, one of them being a community population of 8,400 where although I couldn’t visit every house, I was told that the whole population has “1:1 house / 1:1 toilet”, as they say here in the local vernacular. I have also seen some villages in the last few months were the facilitation and follow up support to CLTS has been particularly unsuccessful, and I put this down to poor facilitation skills and lack of capacity within the partner organisation.

With this in mind, however, and with my past practical field experience, I have always had in mind that any other method of promoting safe sanitation and hygiene behaviour change would never have achieved what has already been achieved here so far. Of the 30 or so partners we have worked with since March 2010 in the area of CLTS specifically, spin off interest has attracted more partners and organizations from outside of our programme remit. We’ve had emails and skype calls from neighbouring countries in the South Pacific (Vanuatu and Solomon Islands), asking about CLTS, and inside PNG we’ve had organizations, agencies and provincial governments offering to pay for our services to have their staff trained in CLTS.

The challenge now is to continue the learning and successes of CLTS inclusion in health promotion activities throughout the country into the 2nd half of the year, as the initial drivers of CLTS depart the country. If the learning so far can be seen as a pilot, a comprehensive roll-out plan can be within the sights of PNG society when all stakeholders get together again with a national policy to support it. A national stakeholders conference on WASH in November 2011 achieved a glimmer of hope at the national level in developing a national WASH policy. The relevant government planning stakeholders stood up and took responsibility for determining policy, and have been backed up by commitments from WSP – World Bank and Wateraid to place additional support staff to assist in the development of policy. With national elections coming up in June 2012, and interim / changing governments on the cards, progress may be a little cumbersome at first, but the foundations may have already been laid for PNG’s position on the pacific stage as a major sanitation attitude changer.

The biggest success of CLTS in PNG so far in my opinion, is in those majority of local government, agency and NGO staff and natural leaders throughout the country who have taken the concept of CLTS and given themselves a new enthusiasm and goal to make a difference within their communities. Because it is such a simple concept, understood by all who actively experience it, villages and communities are emerging with new behaviours, changing the parts of society that they belong to. Our programme would have realistically hoped to achieve influence in anywhere up to 4% of the population. But it is apparent that it has had far wider influence in bits and pieces on a national and pacific scale. Access to key decision-makers at the national level has always been a challenge in recent political times, but there is now a re-newed hope that this will continue to be addressed by some international big-hitters. There are plans afoot to invite Kamal Kar to PNG to address the challenges we face at the national level, and at ground- ‘facilitation’ level, even assurances of funding has been mentioned to facilitate a future visit! Timing, as always in PNG time, will be key!

Stuart Jordan, RWSSP, Papua New Guinea

Date: 21 March 2012