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Is the non-subsidy approach feasible in South Sudan?

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South Sudan is a country that has suffered the effects of a devastating civil war that lasted about 25 years. It is just in the last 6 years that the country has enjoyed relative peace. But even then, there are still sporadic and intermittent episodes of inter ethnic and political rivalry that many times results in loss of life and property. The prolonged civil war immensely contributed to the stifling of development in the country. The road network has been virtually non existent in most parts of the country, the health and education systems have been at rudimentary level for a long time. Access to basic commodities like food, blankets, medicines and so on was a nightmare for majority of the population. Many were forced by circumstances to either flee the country or live in the internally displaced persons camps due to the hostile security situation that prevailed in the country at the time.

Humanitarian assistance
This state of affairs placed the survival and the sustenance of the people in the hands of the UN agencies and other International NGOs who came to answer the distress call. Most of these agencies set up huge operations to offer emergency and humanitarian assistance to the people. There is no question that these operations were critical to the survival of the people who were so much neglected by the government of the time. Without this operation there is no doubt that there would have been human catastrophe in the country. Still even with the all the best efforts of the international community and other people of goodwill, thousands of South Sudanese lost their lives due to insecurity, war, hunger and disease. The fact that many more survived is a reflection of the tenacity and resilience of these people to overcome all odds!

Dependency culture
However, one of the effects of the humanitarian interventions is that it inadvertently inculcated a culture of dependency and helplessness in the people. The communities ended up depending almost entirely on the INGOs for their sustenance; whether it was food, blankets, clothing, medicine, education, water, sanitation facilities etc. The general expectation of the communities is therefore that whenever they see NGO operatives they will get subsidies from them.

Initial resistance to CLTS
This brief background provides a glimpse as to why CLTS initially always faces resistance from the communities especially with regard to its strong advocacy of non subsidy on household sanitation. Everywhere I have gone to conduct CLTS trainings in the country, and the subsequent triggering that take place during the field practicals, there is usually determined opposition on the issue of no subsidies on household sanitation. Some of the sentiments that I have had to face from time to time are:

  • How comes that these NGOs now want us to do things by ourselves, where are they taking our money?
  • We are poor people, how shall we buy the slabs? Who will dig the pits for us?
  • We all accept that we must stop open defecation, but how shall we do this when we have no money to construct latrines?
  • We are poor people, we can do nothing on our own, unless you help us.
  • Who will give us the digging tools for constructing our latrines?
  • For things to work well, you need to send us artisans who will construct latrines for us.

These kinds of sentiments and questions can easily discourage and frighten the uninitiated CLTS facilitators into believing that the no subsidy approach is unworkable. Indeed there are facilitators who have given up on CLTS after facing this kind of predicament. There are also organizations that have succumbed to pressure from the communities and given up on non subsidy approach. In public they say that they are doing CLTS, but in private they continue with business as usual of supplying latrine subsidies to the communities.

Feasibility of CLTS in South Sudan
The question then that one may ask is, ‘is CLTS feasible in South Sudan? Is it possible to conduct and implement a purely non-subsidy approach in South Sudan?’ My answer to both questions is yes.

I would wish to share an experience that I had with a “very difficult” community who insisted on latrine subsidies before they could start any collective action to stop open defecation. In this particular meeting we had representatives from villages which had gone through CLTS triggering a few days before. I will make a few verbatim quotes from them:

What will you give us to help us accomplish our goal of constructing latrines in our community? (Aluong)

You need to dig for us latrines…defecating in the bush has been our lifestyle for a long time…even our late leader, Garang was born in the bush and defecated in the bush…our people are still poor, you will have to construct latrines for them, while those who are rich can construct their latrines on their own…without your support we cannot succeed…please take our plea back to the office. (Deborah)

You are like our son, and you need to understand our situation…you need to organize a team that will dig and construct latrines for us. (Rebecca)

All the NGOs coming to our community support us with relief assistance… we therefore expect you to offer us something for latrine construction…you have opened our eyes…we now appreciate the negative effects of poor sanitation…you should not stop there…you should now go ahead and provide us with tools to construct our latrines. (Abuoch)

Retriggering strategy
This is the strategy I adopted in order to address the issues raised by the community.

  • I made it clear that we had absolutely no materials to offer.
  • I showed them a pictorial presentation of how different communities in Africa and elsewhere had constructed latrines without any external support or subsidy.
  • I took time to emphasize how poor people, and some of them, physically challenged, had constructed their own latrines using locally available resources without any external assistance. This really had some of them thinking, especially when they saw pictures of people who were apparently poorer than them constructing their own latrines!
  • I asked them which of these two situations gave them more pride and self respect. 1) A brand new suit given to you as a donation or 2) A second hand cloth you bought with your own money. There was consensus that a second hand cloth bought with one’s own money provided more respect and pride. I used this to explain that there was more pride and self respect in constructing a latrine using locally available materials instead of waiting for NGOs or government to donate slabs and other construction materials.
  • I borrowed a saying from my community that says, ‘Luth machiegni ema nego thuol’. Translated it means that, when attacked by a snake, you can only use the nearest stick (weapon) to you to kill it. I used this saying to illustrate that diarrhoea is like a snake which has attacked a village. To immobilize this snake, you cannot wait for assistance to come from Juba (capital city of South Sudan). You must immobilize it with the weapons at your disposal, otherwise it will cause havoc in the village. In same context, asking or waiting for latrine subsidies is like waiting for weapons to arrive from Juba to attack a snake in your village.

The above had the effect of retriggering them, and they now changed tune and said that they were now ready to start constructing their latrines using locally available resources. It was interesting and encouraging to see their change of heart. This is what they had to say afterwards:

Construction of latrine is a good thing. The only problem is that most of our people are illiterate, but we are prepared to train them on how to construct latrines…learning is a process and we need you to show us how to construct a latrine by example…if we can see two or three examples of latrines, then we shall be able to move on our own. (Ateny)

In our culture we cannot tolerate defeat when we decide to do something. When we started to fight for the liberation of South Sudan from our oppressors in the north, the army of our leader John Garang had very modest weapons. In the course of time, it grew in strength and we were able to defeat our enemy. In the same spirit, we shall start with the little resources that we possess and continue until every one has a latrine, and no one defecates in the bush. (Buop)

In our Dinka community, we have a saying that you should be proud of the little you have than the much someone else has…we are ready to start with the little we have and construct latrines that we can be proud of. (Daruka)

Lessons learnt

  • CLTS facilitators should not succumb to pressure from the communities demanding subsidies. A consistent and unwavering message of no subsidy will eventually challenge the communities to adopt self made latrines.
  • A rational discussion with the communities can illuminate their minds on their potential to construct self made latrines.
  • There are two levels of triggering that are important in South Sudan. 1) To trigger the communities to see the need to stop open defecation and 2) To trigger the communities to overcome the subsidy mentality in order to start constructing self made latrines. The two triggers are important to getting CLTS off the ground in a community.

In a subsequent follow up to the villages, we found that actually a number of households had started constructing their latrines. Indeed we are beginning to see important steps by the communities to stop open defecation. Much work still needs to be done. Nevertheless the wind of change is beginning to blow.

Philip V. Otieno, Plan Kenya

Related blogs on this subject include
Challenges and hope for CLTS in South Sudan

Tackling fear and scepticism: advice and examples from CLTS trainings in South Sudan

Date: 19 March 2012