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Innovative Bangladesh: CLTS Sharing and Learning at the 6th SACOSAN Conference in Dhaka

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Regional CLTS sharing and learning workshop, Sunday 10 January 2016: Innovative Bangladesh!
The traditional pre-SAN gathering of CLTS practitioners and enthusiasts brought together an interesting and eclectic group in Dhaka, with a notably large and welcome presence by the Afghanistan delegation. The focus of the first session was on innovation and new learning. While always difficult to focus the group’s attention tightly on new learning, several interesting new developments were highlighted.

Bisi Agberemi (UNICEF Bangladesh) talked about recent thinking on Bangladesh’s paradox of high ODF (apparently successful sanitation) and continuing high levels of stunting, which has led UNICEF to look more closely at the weaknesses of current sanitation and hygiene approaches, with the conclusion that “Baby WASH” was a critical issue – faecal contamination caused by infant exposure to unhygienic environments, unsafe handling and disposal of infant excreta, and inadequate handwashing with soap after contact with infant excreta, few of which are adequately addressed by current sanitation and hygiene approaches (including CLTS). Given the critical 24-month period from birth, during which most stunting takes place, this is clearly an important issue that needs greater attention in policy, programming and practice.

Horizontal Learning Programme
The horizontal learning programme has been active in Bangladesh since 2007, but was new to many of the workshop participants. This innovative programme facilitates local governments to share and learn from each other, with a focus on replicating good practices through sustainable improvements in local government capacity and systems.

In the first phase, Upazilas (district equivalents) used an appreciative enquiry approach to identify 26 good practices, of which 16 were selected for replication and integration into annual plans and budgets. By 2012, a total of 120 good practices had been identified, with support from 29 development partners and USD 3.2 million of local government funds allocated to implement the 23 core practices across 31 Upazilas.

One of the core practices was “community ignition to achieve 100% sanitary latrine coverage”; others included water quality surveillance (including arsenic and bacteriological testing, and sanitary surveys) and initiatives to improve disabled access to WASH facilities. The local governments use their own funds and capacity to implement these best practices, drawing on the capacity building and monitoring frameworks developed by their peers (with support and facilitation from the development partners).

Stunting Free Villages
The “Stunting Free Village” programme is another that recognises the Bangladesh paradox that ODF status does not appear to have reduced high stunting rates, in suggesting that interventions should not just focus on stopping open defecation (as this alone does not appear to have been enough to reduce stunting in Bangladesh) but should take things one stage further and aim explicitly at the elimination of stunting (in infants) on a village by village basis.

In a later meeting with Imam Mahmud Riad, the country director for the Max Foundation, which is leading the work on Stunting Free Villages, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mark Ellery (an ex-WSP staffer, who I believe has long been one of the smartest – and least recognised – thinkers in the WASH sector) was the brains behind this truly innovative and exciting idea.

The programme has been running for about a year, so does not yet have any results to share, but aims to eliminate stunting in all under-two year old children through a mixture of village-wide WASH and nutrition interventions (particularly targeted at high-risk infants and families). The Max Foundation hopes to run a workshop in June 2016 to present its preliminary results, and we are all looking forward to learning more!

Smartphone monitoring apps
I tried to interest the workshop participants in the growing experience around the use of smartphone apps for sanitation and hygiene monitoring. The increasing availability of low-cost smartphones, monitoring applications and data networks means that both routine community-level monitoring and rapid household surveys are now far easier and cheaper to implement, filling the previously large gap between routine monitoring and the once every three, four or five year nationally-representative household surveys (such as DHS, MICS and national census). The smartphone apps eliminate the previously onerous and time-consuming work of processing, cleaning and analysing paper-based household surveys, allowing even small projects to generate reliable survey results in a very short period of time.

My evaluation team recently used a smartphone monitoring app to conduct household surveys as part of the final evaluation of the Plan Pan African CLTS program. The survey consultant finished the survey in Niger on Thursday afternoon; uploaded the last of the data to a server located in Australia on Thursday evening; Paul Tyndale-Biscoe, the consultant overseeing the survey was working in Fiji at the time, but was able to access the server, and download the results, which he emailed to me in Niger … so that I could present them to a gathering of national and local stakeholders (including government, local government and NGO stakeholders) at 9am the next morning. I was even able to share a map of the GPS coordinates of the households and toilets surveyed in one of the villages, overlain on a satellite map of the village, to show that the household sampling was well distributed (see photo: households surveyed in Tombo Tessa, Niger). I believe that this is an example of technology working well to make development work more efficient and more effective … but I’m not sure that I managed to convince many of the other workshop participants! What was clear, however, was the huge amount of innovation and advanced thinking coming out of Bangladesh – the home of CLTS continues to be well ahead of the crowd when it comes to sanitation and hygiene improvement.

Andy Robinson is an independent WASH Consultant.

Date: 28 January 2016