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All for one and one for All? Supporting the poorest through the CLTS process

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Reflections from the CLTS Side Event at the 40th WEDC Conference

Achieving SDG target 6.2 necessitates a reworking of the national landscape of sanitation policies, strategies and programmes. Intra-community support for ending open defecation can no longer be taken fore granted by global and national CLTS actors. Last week at the 40th WEDC Conference the CLTS Knowledge Hub and UNICEF held a side event on ‘Revisiting Subsidies: supporting the poorest through the CLTS process’.

We heard examples from a range of organisations that have trialled and tested interventions (mostly in the Asian context) that provided external support to the most vulnerable within CLTS practice:

  • The Participatory Social Assessment and Mapping (PSAM) has been used in Cambodia to understand the local context, social norms and interactions, vulnerabilities. It has been used to ensure the inclusion of the most vulnerable groups and monitor and evaluate equality and non-discrimination outcomes.
  • The Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) conducted a scoping and diagnosis study to gain a better understanding of the challenges, opportunities, and implementation approaches used to address equality and non discrimination within GSF funded interventions. The scoping looked at how the GSF funded programming has been impacting on and involving individuals and groups who may be vulnerable, marginalised, excluded or experiencing inequalities, inequities or stigma.  
  • Under NOURISH, a programme to improve the nutritional status and well-being of rural women and children, SNV Cambodia used CLTS to create the demand for sanitation and provided vouchers to support the poor to purchase WASH products (water filters, latrines, and hand washing devices) for improved sanitation, hygiene, and safe drinking water.  
  • iDE shared their experience with human-centered sales approach and alternative methods of sanitation financing in Cambodia

Since sanitation is a public good, much effort in CLTS rests on the assumption that ‘each individual will act for the benefit of all, and that the community will act for the benefit of each individual’. These examples of current practice call into question what was considered one of non-negotiable principles in CLTS. During the side event, participants identified a number of important dimensions that shape support for the poorest.

The ends don’t justify the means
The process of CLTS matters as much as the outcome. The misuse of CLTS tools and process has been exposed and challenged: for instance where the most vulnerable people are coerced into building a toilet or where children whistle or throw stones at community elders who continue OD. People in vulnerable situations do not just want sanitation. People must be treated fairly and with dignity. Doing no Harm means that those facilitating the process must have a better understanding who might be disadvantaged; keep a check on community solutions that infringe rights; intentionally include all people at all stages in the CLTS process; promote codes of conduct for CLTS facilitators and Natural Leaders as well as making available support (from within the community and outside the community).

Rebalancing the emphasis on communities of place 
At it’s most radical, people with the most at stake are in control of the CLTS process; such that it is ground-up, involves self-organisation rather than hierarchical relationships, it should be free, co-operative and participatory. It works where people want to be collaborative, to work together in community to solve mutual problems, to regain power and take control of their lives. Yet to what extent can we automatically assume communities of place (rather than communities of interest) will support the most vulnerable with access to sanitation? And within families, can we rely on sons and daughters to build latrines for elderly parents? Do households always want to share their latrine with a vulnerable neighbour? Aren’t frail, elderly, single woman left without support to build latrines? Is it realistic to expect intra-community support in the context of wider, incomplete efforts at development and hierarchies in communities? At its root, inequality in access to sanitation is a political issue. This makes it necessary to broaden out the debate beyond personal experience and the geographical boundaries of the community to link into social and political structures and institutions.

Re-visioning CLTS processes and tools
As an approach, CLTS allows for a plurality of perspectives and interpretations. In practice CLTS has been adapted and continues to evolve.  Practitioners call for more attention to: behaviour change (is disgust the most effective trigger in all contexts?); the relative importance of community byelaws and enforcement; the potential of sanitation marketing in standardising the quality of latrines (e.g. to avoid pit collapse). Further research has a role in this but a cycle of research generated by research must be avoided. CLTS actors must continue to build alliances and create space for/mobilise diverse forms of knowledge for action. Hierarchies and status quo within the CLTS approach should also be challenged to avoid closing down debates and suppressing reflective practice.

CLTS + what? = safe sanitation for all
CLTS actors are used to thinking vertically (in terms of moving up the sanitation and hygiene ladder) and horizontally (scaling up). But we must also think diagonally, linking up with other approaches and other actors in various ways to support the poorest along the sanitation chain (like interlocking stickle bricks). The examples given in the WEDC side event described the multiple forms of support offered for the poorest in different Asian settings. The examples suggest it is possible to integrate new financing arrangements at the same time as dealing with sustained use of sanitation in a way that is aligned with government systems. These routes may be appropriate to different use in African settings, depending on the design principles (e.g. whether to subsidise the community or the household), administrative cost, delivery, management and efficiency. Getting such pilots moving soon is a major imperative.

Continuing to work towards equity
In many respects the often-obsessive focus on subsidy in the sanitation debate is only a small part of a bigger and more complex story. International experience shows that more use needs to be made of the diverse ways of supporting the poorest to build latrines: where possible this would be intra-community support, but also external support (financial - vouchers, subsidised credit) as well as indirect support (subsidised transport for CLTS Facilitators and sharing ideas e.g. inclusive toilet designs). The CLTS Knowledge Hub will continue to build on the agenda discussed in the side event through promoting existing resources in their newsletter, producing a new ‘Frontiers’ on the topic as well as convening actors at Stockholm World Water Week to facilitate exchange and mutual learning.

Sue Cavill is an independent WASH Consultant

Date: 1 August 2017