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Humanure, tippy taps and elephants: second day of the Pan Africa annual review meeting

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Today began with another superb sunrise over a glassy Lake Victoria.  Fisherman elegantly ushered fish into nets with a vigorous thwack of paddles on the surface, a sporadic rhythm for the chorus of unidentified birds welcoming the morning with song. 

The breakfast table murmurings on how best to compost ‘humanure’ probably weren’t quite the same music to the ears of our fellow guests at the hotel.  They didn’t offer any input onwhether or not UCLTS  could really reduce the number of shits being flung onto Ethiopian roofs in plastic bags. And I confess, we didn’t stop to hear if they agreed that the shit and food activity is the most effective trigger point in Malawi, as we raced to our meeting to avoid the wrath of timekeeper Bongartz. 

We shared some key points from day 1 including;

  • Plan Kenya’ successful experience eliminating open defecation in schools and communities before re-using defecation sites as playgrounds or kitchen gardens, a great motivator for communities where land is at a premium. 
  • Some projects are capitalising on CLTS movements to strengthen water supply functionality and sustainability through collective action;
  • Experience suggests that urban CLTS is a challenging topic with many stakeholders and variables making CLTS a tool which likely requires support from other activities (rather than being a solution in itself) to achieve and sustain ODF.
  • Plan Ethiopia and Plan Kenya’s introduction of annual re-verification and celebration of ODF in a bid to improve the sustainability of improved sanitation and hygiene practic

And it was this that provided such a great segue for the morning session discussing the practical impacts of Plan’s ODF sustainability study.

But not before all 30 odd participants did some ‘synchronised miming’ of Robert Chambers’ traumatic experience involving stinky joggers and an exploding suitcase in a hotel lobby. 
It was worth coming just for that! 

Sustainability of behaviour change is a tremendous challenge that remains for CLTS practitioners.  The Plan ODF sustainability study has shown particularly, the limited movement of households up the sanitation ladder and the subsequent sustainability challenges in maintaining ODF practices. 

There was varied response as to the degree that the Plan ODF Sustainability Study has been absorbed, disseminated and subsequently impacted practice within the 8 countries present. 

Plan Uganda could cite several examples where they had implemented changes in practice to improve sustainability such as;

  • Developed and trained masons on a latrine design with better latrine durability in flood prone areas
  • Collaborative design of IEC materials to reinforce behaviour change
  • Integrated water supply maintenance and sustainability aspects into ODF communities in a bid to create an enabling environment for hand washing

A common thread from majority of projects included rigorous government engagement at various levels but also, the engagement of several ministries and departments to improve the reach and monitoring of ODF. 

The topic of triggering quality and key motivators was largely neglected by all but Plan Ghana.  Are the others certain of quality and looking beyond for other ways to ensure sustainability?  We need to investigate this further.

The topic of handwashing was quickly becoming the elephant in the room.  So much speak of constructing latrines and changing where people shit but the most effective barrier for preventing it entering our bodies stood largely neglected.  Changing behaviour around handwashing is a huge challenge, especially sustaining the behaviour. 

The comparability of ash versus soap was highlighted after presence of soap became a talking point.  Ash is an effective substitute particularly in public settings such as school where costs and ‘disappearing soaps’ are a significant problem.

Tippy tap designs and innovations were mentioned briefly and promised to be shared while Cathy from Plan UK reinforcement the need to innovate with IEC materials and messaging

The discussion was again heated and full of passionate debate but it was down to the restaurant for a quick lunch before we loaded onto buses headed East, to Tororo District for a field visit. 

The long bus journey, over 200kms, was broken up by a short stop at the official source of the Nile, where around 30% of its water bubbles up from the Northern edge of Lake Victoria.  A welcome stop after 2hrs hurtling through the expansive urban sprawl of Kampala and its neighbouring towns.  From there, the houses broke up giving way to rolling hills covered with sugar cane, tea and later, rice on the flats, irrigated from the mighty Lake. 

We arrived late at the hotel, around 8:30pm, were promptly fed and I for one, collapsed in a heap, still recovering from jet-lag. 
Looking forward to seeing Plan Uganda’s work in the field tomorrow!

Tom Rankin is Program Manager WASH for Plan Australia

Date: 13 March 2015
Pan Africa