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My walk through shit and water; insights from the 39th WEDC conference

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I was excited to travel by road to Kumasi and while I was looking forward to site-seeing, I was more eager to start engaging in stimulating conversations with other participants at the 39th WEDC conference. Because I was tired from my trip, I spent the first few minutes after my arrival resting and orienting myself to a place that I would call home for the next five days of the conference. During our road trip to Kumasi I immediately got engrossed in a conversation with a member of WEDC. Our discussion largely bordered on various critical emerging issues in the sector. We both agreed on one fundamental point, while the “sustainability” challenge in the WASH sector hinged on the quality of programme implementation, the problem was actually more multi-pronged and extended to institutional capacity, local regulations and knowledge development and sharing. These sharing and learning opportunities were what I looked forward to the most from the conference!

Prior to the conference I caught up with a WASH practitioner based in South Sudan. The thrilling topic of WASH in emergency situations is close to my heart and I listened with excitement as he paraded his adventures in his year of implementation. Institutional engagement was still prime to the discussion, further dynamics in CLTS as an approach and the influence of religion and culture was an emerging learning point. During the conference, emergency WASH was developed in the paper session on Tuesday, the 12th of July.

My expedition later landed me with a discussion with a practitioner from Niger. I was thrilled about the up scaled 600 communities’ behavioural change interventions in his paper presentation (relying on social-cultural values to have good hygiene practices permanently adopted). My recent evaluation for sustainability on our implementation in Zambia amongst many avenues needing attention was participation especially for marginalised groups. There was need for the women, the elderly, the disabled and the poor to be more involved in activities as most felt that whilst success was been recorded in sanitation and hygiene coverage, there was need for all to feel a part of the process. In the Niger experience, there was focus on using listener groups, film and community discussions as behavioural change interventions. In film, during the day a team shorts a video on actual practices on hand washing in the community. The film is aired in the evening and sparks a discussion among community members. “They are able to see themselves in the movie and feel involved” I recollected with realisation of the intervention. This is a very interesting pathway that bridges the gap in the exclusive use of community technocrats (village headpersons, community champions, hygiene promoters etc.) as agents of behavioural change by integrating a more inclusive approach especially for the marginalised.

Throughout the conference, intriguing topics as the link of WASH and nutrition, WASH information management systems, institutional development (an intriguing case study of Kenya WASH service delivery in a devolved context explored in a paper by Lewnida Sara) were explored. During the demand- led sanitation paper session, a paper (rolling out Zimbabwean approach to demand-led sanitation in most vulnerable communities) explored the zero subsidy technology specific market integration. Highlighted in the paper also was the proper selection of the marginalised to benefit from toilet subsidy which was done by the community members themselves where the vulnerable targeted households lived. The conference also explored private sector engagement in WASH, from water to sanitation and hygiene and experiences on possibilities of an efficient profitable and well incentivised service delivery.

On Tuesday the 12th of July 2016, the CLTS Knowledge Hub at IDS launched the book, Sustainable Sanitation for All: Experiences, challenges and innovations, during an evening side event. This was the African book launch at the WEDC 39 conference in Kumasi, Ghana. With over 20 writers, the book was a collection of diverse practitioners, researchers and donors on sector issues on sustainability. I was stung numb at the great rush for the few book copies given out during the launch, a huge indication of the demand by the WASH community for the book.

The #Wedc39 tweets, the poster presentations, the networking and gala night all provided immediate opportunities to interact, share experience and reflect on the WASH sector and the impact of the 39th WEDC to it. The capacity building workshop further provided key learnings for the sector and despite the long week, most of us still stayed around to attend.

Different interests, different expeditions, different professionals, different geographical and social economic implementation environments, different focus on sustainability, different involvement of the government, CBOs and local NGO’s. All these experiences were thrillingly in one basket at the 39th WEDC conference!

Warren Simangolwa is Sanitation Supply Chain and Finance Advisor for SNV Zambia.

Date: 22 July 2016