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Reflections on the West and Central Africa Regional Rural Sanitation Workshop

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Flying into Dakar, Senegal, for the start of the four day West and Central Africa Regional Rural Sanitation Workshop, hosted by the CLTS Knowledge Hub, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), I was struck by the arid landscape that we flew over. The vast vista was dominated by dry red soils and parched vegetation; a timely reminder of the water scarcity and food security problems faced by many countries in West and Central Africa (despite an abundance of human and natural resources). Senegal does better on most measures, but the region remains one of the poorest in the world, with low crop yields and high levels of under-nutrition, and only 19 per cent rural access to basic sanitation across the region.

West and Central Africa is largely French-speaking. Participants at the workshop represented 15 countries from the region, including ten Francophone countries1 and five Anglophone countries2. The bilingual nature of the workshop discussions presented some challenges, although these were greatly diminished by an excellent simultaneous translation service that allowed everyone to follow proceedings whatever their language skills!


Extensive CLTS experience
There is a lot of good CLTS experience in the region. Many of the country contexts suit CLTS well – there are many remote rural communities, with only limited market development outside the main towns; and constraints on water supply (favouring non-flush latrines) – with extensive and interesting experiences shared by the workshop participants. Mali is also renowned as the location of the one of the few CLTS programmes that has managed to demonstrate a reduction in stunting from increased community-level sanitation coverage.

Le Dernier Kilometre (The Last Mile)
One of the main workshop sessions was on reaching the last mile – how best to identify, understand and support the communities, groups, places and individuals that get left behind by conventional rural sanitation approaches and are the last to gain access. There is no ready French term for this concept – we decided on Le Dernier Kilometre but first had to explain to the participants what this meant!

The participants identified four main groups as the dernier km for rural sanitation in West and Central Africa. These groups were largely similar to those identified in the East and Southern Africa workshop, and again reflected the wide and diverse populations and places that need to be considered and targeted by programmes if we are to achieve universal access to basic sanitation and end open defecation by 2030:

  • People living in conflict-affected or insecure areas
  • People living in remote or physically challenging environments
  • People living in non-responsive or hard-to-reach communities
  • Non-responsive or hard-to-reach groups within communities

Substantial areas of the region have been affected by conflict or long-term security issues (e.g. threats and insecurity caused by Islamic fundamentalist groups), which make it difficult for programme staff to travel into some areas, or provide long-term monitoring and support.  Communities are being asked to do more in these situations, and there was even some discussion of a potential sanitation facilitator role for military personnel, given the practice of stationing a few soldiers in each community in insecure areas.

An interesting regional development is the use of “risk-informed programming” to target populations with high public health risks. The region faces regular cholera outbreaks and both chronic (long-term) and acute (short-term) undernutrition problems, and regional actors have realised that efforts to identify and target the high-risk groups (e.g. mobile fishing communities that have been linked to the spread of cholera among coastal populations) through risk-informed rural sanitation and hygiene programmes can prevent or limit wider public health effects.


Post-ODF strategies
The region seemed to be ahead in one significant area – the development and use of post-ODF strategies. One of the criticisms of CLTS is that it engenders a strong focus on achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) status, but provides little guidance on what comes next, or what happens to communities that do not become ODF as a result of the initial CLTS interventions. A number of countries in the region have developed post-ODF plans or strategies, which provide guidance on sustainability support and on how to tackle reversion to open defecation.

One of the most interesting examples was the Mali Post-ODF strategy3. The strategy includes six main post-ODF steps: community evaluation (including Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) survey and transect walks); community action planning (either to regain ODF status, or to maintain it); implementation of community action plan; learning and sharing of experiences (including with neighbouring villages); progress assessment; celebration of community and sub-district achievements, and planning for long-term sustainability.  The strategy details the activities to be carried out; the roles and responsibilities of the different actors during the process; and also provides standard monitoring and reporting instruments.

Mali also has an approach for the re-triggering of communities that did not achieve ODF during the first phase of CLTS interventions, which aims to re-energise the process and identify the areas that led to slow progress in the previous intervention.

Sustainability support is becoming increasingly important, with various approaches (including a phased approach) being used in different contexts. These post-ODF strategies provide a solid basis for the design of more systematic sustainability support, including allocations of the long-term capacity and resources needed.

Regional sharing and learning mechanisms

The workshop confirmed a gulf between the Anglophone and Francophone sanitation worlds. The Francophone participants noted that most sector documents are in English as are most sector webinars and events. As a result, the sector in this region has evolved slightly differently, driven more by regional priorities and successes than by global learning. Obviously there are several global actors working to share lessons from other regions, but it was apparent from the discussions that the experiences and lessons from the region were somewhat different to those reported at the East and Southern Africa regional rural sanitation workshop held in Arusha in April 2018.

One of the key messages from this workshop was that there are few regional mechanisms for sharing and learning across programmes and countries; and that there are benefits to a bilingual event, such as this, as it encourages exchanges between Francophone and Anglophone participants who often attend separate meetings in order to simplify the process. This workshop was a success, and the demand for bilingual events is clearly there – so I have my fingers crossed for future Francophone events like this across the sector.

(Photos by Elaine Mercer, CLTS Knowledge Hub)

Andy Robinson is an independent WASH Consultant.

  • 1. Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, DRC, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
  • 2. Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
  • 3. Presentation on the key points also available in English: http://www.communityledtotalsanitation.org/sites/communityledtotalsanitation.org/files/Mali_presentation_KalifaKeita.pdf
Date: 12 July 2018