Leadership matters: The case of community led total sanitation and hygiene

By Araya Mengistu


Ethiopia is a country showing strong progress in achieving global and national goals for WASH services. It has achieved the MDG target 7c for water supply. Although still behind for sanitation targets, considerable progress is made. As of 2012, 37 per cent of communities practiced open defecation, as compared to 92 per cent in 1990[1]

The progress on sanitation is mainly achieved through the national Health Extension Programme (HEP) and the community led total sanitation and hygiene (CLTSH) approach. CLTSH is an approach that helps to mainly rural communities to understand undesirable effects of poor sanitation, and through a process of “triggering” – igniting a change in behaviour – achieve sustained behaviour change leading to spontaneous and long term abandonment of Open Defecation (OD) practices. Since its introduction in 2006/7, CLTSH has remained the only instrument in Ethiopia to induce behaviour change of communities to consider construction of latrines and use them – discouraging the practice of open defecation. Although the achievements in the past decade are significant, the success of the approach varied significantly from place to place.

For example, the Oromia regional state, the largest in the country, consists 265 rural and 39 urban districts or woredas. Out of 6,531 kebeles (sub-districts each with an average population of 5,000) in rural areas, about 16 per cent are open-defecation free (ODF) – meaning no-one, including visitors and passing pedestrians, are openly defecating and all have access to basic latrines with handwashing facilities.

UNICEF supports 24 woredas in Oromia state between 2011 and 2015. Of the supported woredas, 24 per cent (116 of 477 kebeles) have achieved ODF status. Compared to regional average of 16 per cent, this is a huge achievement. Sire, one of the supported woredas, has recently been graduated in 2015 with 100 per cent performance, declaring all 18 rural kebeles ODF. Other woredas are at various stages. 11 woredas are between 20-50 per cent progresses, while the rest 12 woredas are of 0-10 per cent progress. Compared to these, Sire Woreda shows an outstanding performance.

Such exceptional achievement requires successfully overcoming a number of challenges. A key challenge is lack of thorough understanding of the steps involved in CLTSH and their importance. Usually CLTSH is about training facilitators and triggering communities. However, many practitioners agree that this is the easiest part. Rendering adequate supervision after the triggering stage and providing support that is necessary to sustain the momentum is the difficult part. Other challenges include diffusion of information to neighbouring communities that make the approach ineffective, lack of trainers with actual field experience, high staff turnover, poor coordination among stakeholders, weak commitment of staff and trained people and application of CLTSH without adequate or proper organisation and preparation.

Growing over all these challenges and as a result of four years of effort, Sire Woreda celebrated 100 per cent ODF achievement in April 2015, with all rural villages and kebeles free from open defecation.

Even though, some of these kebeles were declared ODF two or more years ago, , they continued to sustain their status despite the usual trend of falling-back to OD practice noticed as time elapses. This demonstrates an effective post-triggering activity by the Woreda that effectively complimented the planning and triggering activity.

How was this achieved? The Woreda administration leveraged existing structures to sensitize the leadership ladder down to village level on CLTSH and built it in to the regular reporting and evaluation process. This has helped to mobilize the largest possible support to the effort of Health Extension Workers (HEWs) and CLTSH facilitators, including teachers and students under the guidance and support of the Woreda Health Office. It has also avoided diversions of focus (including manpower, logistics, and resources) as CLTSH has become an official woreda priority.

Two notable practices can be praised in the woreda for this success.  (a) the technique of triggering one full kebele at a time in contrast to the usual practice of village by village, and (b) use of different post-triggering follow-up technique suited to context. The advantage of the first technique was twofold. It helped to avoid diffusion of information in to neighbouring communities. Since, focusing in one kebele at a time required more trained people, the coordinators called upon trained and experienced facilitators from adjacent woredas to support, which worked really well. On the other hand, the woreda experts consciously applied different post-triggering follow-up methods. In highland areas, they applied the ‘flag system’, where by communities themselves awarded white flags to households who have constructed basic latrines, and red flags to those who did not. In low land areas, students were organized to alert the community when they see any one defecating in the open, who will then ensure the person buries the excreta.

Currently, the Woreda continues to strengthen the community platforms for monitoring progress and pro-actively works with local leaders to provide the necessary guidance and technical support to sustain the achievement. As a result of this, they are expecting at least two kebeles to achieve secondary ODF, which includes upgrading of basic latrines to improved latrines (with washable slab, vent pipe, hole-cover) with hand washing facility by the whole community. The commitment of leaders, and subsequent effective coordination in the Woreda has benefited the wider community to keep children, women and the society at large healthy.

[1] Joint Monitoring Programme 2014.

One thought on “Leadership matters: The case of community led total sanitation and hygiene

  1. Please extend the program in schools specially where early childhood care and education (ECCE) practiced in Amhara regional state. In such schools there are OD practices where there are no latrines with sanitary materials and access like water. Children who were sent to school to attend pre-school do not have latrine access with sanitary materials and were faced to diarrhea and other poor hygiene and sanitation related diseases. These children are between 4 to 6 years old and they are disliking schools as they were repeatedly sick because of unfriendly school environments. So, UNICEF should observe schools those who are practicing pre-school (o class) to achieve the MDG especially the first goal of education.

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