Water, sanitation and waste | Blogs

  • The change we want to see for urban slum dwellers


    September 25th, 2018

    Last week the World Bank released an update of its ‘What a Waste’ report. It highlights how over 90% of waste in low-income countries is openly dumped or burned. This affects everyone, but impacts poor people the most. Rubbish is rarely effectively collected in their neighbourhoods. It causes pollution (including 5% of global climate change emissions), acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other diseases and blocks toilets and drains. It can exacerbate the impacts of flooding. Landslides of waste dumps have buried homes. The situation is only likely to get worse as the combination of urbanization and population growth, together with growing consumption, will lead to a 70% increase in global waste in the next 30 years.

    The release of this report coincides with the meeting of our global leadership team, and with re-vitalising of a crucial internal hub drawn from expert staff from across the world, to provide greater leadership and collaboration in our actions.

    Practical Action has been focusing on supporting urban poor communities for nearly 20 years in our programmes in Africa and South Asia. Our teams on the ground have witnessed these changes first hand, and have built up expertise over time on how to work effectively in these contexts with multiple stakeholders: helping slum communities to ensure their voices are heard, and local authorities to be better able to respond.

    Our work over the last few years has focused on basic services: water, sanitation, hygiene and solid waste management. This is because we know that improvements in these issues makes a dramatic difference to the day-to-day realities of women and men. It helps them live healthier lives, less burdened by the struggle of inadequate services and unpleasant, dangerous conditions. It helps restore dignity and ensure they feel included as part of the city. But also it can be a ‘gateway’ to helping them go on to solve other problems they face. We know that there are challenges for urban Local Authorities, who can be poorly staffed and resourced, struggle with effective community engagement, and lack knowledge of the latest appropriate technologies, financing mechanisms or ideas for partnerships.

    On the positive side, the existing informal sector already plays a huge role in delivering essential services in sanitation, water supply and rubbish collection and recycling (as work by WIEGO shows). The World Bank report suggests there are 15 million informal waste pickers in the world, and that if supported to organize this work can be transformed to provide decent livelihoods and support municipalities in delivering a good service. They can be at the heart of the circular economy, and models of green and inclusive growth.

    Practical Action’s work has strong, concrete evidence:

    Linking our areas of work

    Practical Action is also increasingly trying to see the links between different areas of our work – for example linking our work on solid waste management with energy (biogas technologies), or with our work on improving soil organic matter (composting of faecal sludge and kitchen waste).

    In our global strategy, we remain committed to improving the lives of urban poor communities. We are aiming to support the achievement of the SDG goals of universal access to these services in the towns and cities we are working in across Kenya, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

    Our unique approach works with existing systems and stakeholders, puts poor people at the heart of everything we do, and identifies how the right kinds of technologies can be part of positive change. In a fast-changing world, we need to be agile to respond as these challenges grow. We need to find new ways to walk with some of the world’s most vulnerable people and communities through engaging positively with the private sector, and inspiring local authorities and national departments to be pro-poor in their thinking, actions and financing.

    Internally we are committed to doing even more to promote peer-to-peer learning to challenge and inspire staff as they discuss compelling stories, exchange learning, plan together, and gather our evidence to engage effectively in national and international policy dialogues.

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  • My kind of Heroes … the unsung WASHeroes of Gulariya

    “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.”

    – Ernst F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered

    My kind of Heroes is a long remaining B(ack)LOGS gathered while visiting field during the implementation of Safa and Swastha Gulariya project. I got to know them after seeing them – the characters, their tone of voice, and the setting that presents an opportunity to day dream of La La Land. The conversations, the twists and the plots got into unnatural accounts of highs and lows and I felt like a small novice boy boasting and jumping around with their practices, learning and wisdom gathered as true knowledge to share among others.

     

    The Mask of Zorro

    My hero, a down-to-earth family man, when puts on a home-made mask containing the spirit of the sanitation, he becomes a natural and confident leader which allows him to lead a team at a plastic recycling facility. Under the mask, he can explain the various processes of faecal sludge treatment plant components. He easily explains the sludge drying bed, what it does and how it functions.

    The sludge drying bed separates solid and liquid part using sand and gravel layers, solid part gets dried in top of sand and liquid part goes to the tank (anaerobic baffled reactor),” he says in a very confident manner.

     

     

    Wonder Woman

    My hero, is full of doubt about the plan, what to do with very unusable plastics. But she pushes on, when others would have quit, to keep on segregation of plastic which do not have value for transaction.

    My hero wrestles with her own portrait to stop being a hero, still in her best shining moment in the current circumstances.

     

     

     

    The Filter-Man (Khamba Pd. Gharti)

    My hero, a normal man became an entrepreneur by chance and dived deep into biosand filter business after acquiring basic construction technique. He started his own business named “Kritag Raj Biosand Filter Industry”.

    My hero, presents a cheerful character and there is a charm hiding under his rough exterior, full of joys and hard work.

     

     

    The Entrepreneur (Nilam Chaudhary)

    My hero is full of contradiction where she operates an inclusive public  toilet facility. She was assigned to operate the facility by her husband after he signed an agreement with the municipality office.

    My hero, being a housewife, was forced by circumstances to a change while being afraid initially, but now can boast around on her work.

     

     

    The Ring-Man (Ayodhya Pd. Godiya)

    My hero, an experience mason started working at the age of thirteen. He started his own entrepreneurship of ring construction after receiving knowledge of sanitation business in couple of trainings. He had had his doubts on the plan thay may not work. But he kept pushing on providing rings for toilet construction and has helped his own municipality become open defecation free.

    My hero, got recognition from the municipality and his children feel proud of the work he has done.

     

    So tell me about your hero … who he/she is?

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  • World Water Week 2018: highlights from an urban WASH fanatic

    Practical Action Publishing was in the forefront for us this year at World Water Week in Stockholm. The event is a key point in the WASH calendar with 3,700 delegates over a packed week of discussion and learning.

    Water a cross-cutting issue for all our programmes

    Our exhibition stand was a reflection of the depth and breadth of Practical Action’s engagement in water and sanitation issues across the organisation. We featured a range of Practical Action Publishing materials from manuals, to experience-sharing books, to more weighty academic texts. We included materials from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance and our Urban WASH and Waste programme. We were joined by Nazmul Chowdhury from Bangladesh, whose attendance was sponsored by the Securing Water for Food programme, featuring our work on sandbar cropping. I was delighted that the opening plenary featured aQysta and their river-powered irrigation pump which we helped pilot in Nepal under our energy programme.

    The materials we featured and the team of staff were a small illustration of the ‘One Practical Action’ we are aiming for in our global strategy.

     

    New materials launched with high-profile partners and authors

    Practical Action Publishing were featuring three books in particular:

    Faecal Sludge and Septage Treatment. Written by Kevin Taylor, a world expert with many decades of experience and described as, “one of the most pragmatic and experienced engineers I have ever encountered” by a key adviser from the World Bank. His book is set to become THE go-to text for people designing the details of appropriate, low-cost treatment plants, and was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank.

    Scaling up Community Led Total Sanitation: From Village to Nation, by Kamal Kar, a founding father of the CLTS movement. He charts what he sees as the next stage for the movement as we move to SDG 6 and the global elimination of open defecation. The book will be available from January 2019.

    Associated with this, we featured and promoted Innovations for Urban Sanitation: Adapting Community-led Approaches written with the CLTS Knowledge Hub at Sussex University and PLAN International, and drawing on innovative experiences from Practical Action’s work in Kenya and Nepal. It is a guide for practitioners wanting to adapt CLTS methods to work in urban contexts.

    All of these books are or will be available FREE to DOWNLOAD in perpetuity. The World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have ordered 1,800 copies of the Faecal Sludge book for distribution through their networks globally. And they can be purchased at very reasonable rates.

    As our content development manager Clare Tawney pointed out, the Faecal Sludge book is an illustration of what Publishing aims for in all our work: to provide high quality materials useful to practitioners as much as academics, widely available and distributed, for free or at affordable prices.

    Our promotional push including on social media resulted in a spike in page hits and downloads. My twitter account @lucykstevens had 13,500 impressions, 21 new followers and 57 re-tweets.

    Insights for Urban WASH programming

    While the conference was very diverse, I was following strands and networking with like-minded organisations on global trends in the WASH sector: learning about the state of play on approaches, financing and policy. I was reflecting on the contribution our own projects and programmes make to this, and the extent to which the needs of the urban poor are being addressed. I spent an intense three days listening, discussing, contributing and networking with old friends and new: partners, funders and policy-makers.

    My personal highlights

    1. My week started with a ‘Morning of Systems’ hearing from the partners from ‘Agenda for Change’. This set the tone for the week as the WASH sector seeks to move from delivering taps and toilets to changing the official, government-led systems and capacities which will see these things delivered ‘for everyone for ever’.
    2. Reflections from DFID’s policy team that the tide is turning. Policy-makers have heard and understood the urgency of addressing the needs of the urban poor, and there may even be a danger of forgetting the needs of rural communities. The AfDB is launching a new Africa Urban Infrastructure Fund, and AMCOW includes ‘safely managed’ sanitation which they understand as dealing with on-site urban sanitation in their strategy to 2030. The question remains (as stressed by SWA chief Catarina de Albuquerque) how to make the best use of available resources.
    3. Insights into the continuing fragmentation and dysfunction of parts of the system. From Uganda we heard how well civil society has been organised, but that connections are still not always made between Ministries. In many countries responsibilities for sanitation are still separate from water, and those for sewered sanitation separate from on-site sanitation. Cases where on-site sanitation is taken on as the mandate of a city-level utility are celebrated as a rare exception.
    4. The hilarious interference of pathogens (willing participants kitted out in bright t-shirts) at WSUP’s session on faecal pathways, reminding us of the routes to exposure (the sanipath tool is useful) and the importance of multi-pronged strategies to reducing this, including the on-going role of good hand and food hygiene.
    5. The growing confidence and maturity of container-based sanitation service providers, with good cross-learning happening. We need to think more seriously about how these services could be part of a diverse range of options available to households.
    6. WSUP’s useful framework for the enabling environment for urban sanitation which helped to crystallise much of the good work Practical Action is already doing in this area.

    What was missing?

    • Very limited discussion on hygiene. Few sessions featuring it in the search function of the app.
    • A disappointingly low level of discussion on gender issues in the mainstream sessions. There seems to have been almost no attempt to understand what the gender issues might be in pit emptying and faecal sludge treatment services, and it rarely comes up in discussions.

    There remains much for us to do as Practical Action and at times I felt frustrated by our lack of resource, profile and global reach compared to other larger or more specialist organisations.

    However, I left the conference feeling encouraged that the work we are doing is in tune with current debates in the WASH sector. I will now be better able to guide our future programmes, and help our project teams discuss their work in ways which chime with current thinking. Our work is not at a huge scale, but it is innovate, linked well to existing systems and service providers, and adds new insights to the body of practice globally.

     

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  • The rescuers


    July 31st, 2018

    One of my (not-so-pleasant) vivid memories, is witnessing overflowing sludge from the septic tank at our home when I  was studying at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). My mother, one of the smartest ladies I have ever seen, just rushed to the nearby refugee camp, known as ‘Geneva camp’ in search of rescuers. It was getting dark, and we were desperately waiting for the arrival of the rescuers to salvage us from the mess and to relieve us from the sight of utter disgust at the entrance of our home.

    Finally a troop of six people came with their ‘equipment’. Being a student of civil engineering, I was eagerly waiting to see the ‘operation’ with my own eyes. Despite my mother’s red-eyes and gesture of annoyance, I kept on observing with a hope of being a (devoted) engineer.

    They brought with them the necessary equipment – some ropes and buckets together with a drum full of (so-called) chemical. They started by pouring the chemical from the mini drum which was simply kerosene. They mixed kerosene with water to dilute the sludge inside the septic tank to bring it to an optimum consistency. They tied the buckets to ropes and started collecting the semi-solid sludge from the septic tank by dipping the bucket into the tank, and then carried that to the nearby open drain and dumped it manually in the shadow of the darkness of the night. The operation continued for hours and finally shut down early in the morning at the cost of some few hundred Takas after some heavy haggling with my mother.

    I had almost forgotten that memory in the midst of so many lovely and lively events of my life. When I entered my professional career, I discovered that many things have changed over time, in terms of technology, lifestyle and what not, but the story of the rescuers didn’t change much!

    I started my development career after switching from hardcore civil engineering and devoted myself to work on the waste value chain. At some point of time, I wanted to know how septic tanks were emptied and came to know that the same practice prevailed even after two decades!

    I continued my professional journey with the aim of turning ‘waste into resources.’ While working on the ‘waste value chain’, I found, people who are associated with managing waste as their day to day business, are the most neglected, deprived and vulnerable in society.

    After two decades, my rusty memory again came to light. I noticed that we are using our toilets every day and our faecal waste is deposited into septic tanks. When these septic tanks are full and start overflowing creating nuisance, only then do we look for some untouchable sweeper communities to clean up the mess. And they appear as our ‘Rescuers’ to clean it manually using the same primitive technology – a rope and few buckets.

    Unfortunately, even in the twenty-first century, people are cleaning human waste manually!

    Every year at least 30-50 people die while cleaning septic tanks because of carbon monoxide and other poisonous gas generated inside the tanks. We really need to think of their lives, dignity and health and safety.

    The stories of other ‘waste workers’ are not something rosy. Every day, no less than 20,000 tons of municipal waste are generated from our houses, offices, industries. The waste workers are putting their lives at risk for making our lives better.

    Among the waste workers, women are even more deprived. Despite clear indication of the payment of equal wage for men and women in the National Labour Policy-2012, women are getting much less than men, and this is a common practice.

    Nowadays, ‘waste’ is drawing the attention of many entrepreneurs. Some areas are booming like recycling plastic and mobile phones. But what is happening to the workers? What about their working environment? Wage parity? Dignity?

    Sanitation and waste workers of all categories are lacking dignity and risking their lives, and surviving in an unhealthy and sub-human environment. We need to work to safeguard their dignity, realise their rights, minimise wage disparity and secure their health and safety.

    I wish to continue my journey for my fellow brothers and sisters who are putting their best efforts towards making cities liveable. I want my memory to be replaced by a shiny new one.

     

     

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  • … and it (FSTP) is working …


    July 5th, 2018

    CW

    This is not a normal garden but a constructed wetland with Canna lily and Phragmites karka — components of a decentralized faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) at Gulariya municipality in mid-west Nepal. They help treat the faecal sludge and keep the environment clean and unpolluted.

    FSTP is a series of treatment process to reduce the pollution levels from faecal sludge. In this treatment series, the first step is to separate the liquids from the solids, treat both liquid and solid seperately where recovery of nutrients and reuse of treated wastewater is done as possible. (Read more)

    Background

    Safa and Swastha Gulariya project, successfully completed by Practical Action two years ago, initiated the “beyond toilets” approach by constructing a 3 cubic metres per day capacity faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) to treat the faecal sludge from pits and septic tanks connected with toilets. Gulariya Municipality also joined hands with the project by procuring a 4 cubic metres capacity cesspool vehicle using its own internal resources.

    The project was able to achieve 100% toilet coverage in Gulariya Municipality with construction of 11,000 new toilets. Also, five communities were declared total sanitation communities.

    Pictures: (L) FSTP under construction

    (R) Cesspool vehicle of Gulariya municipality

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Read more:

    Gulariya Municipality declared “Open Defecation Free”

    More than a toilet

    Inclusive toilet – an example of inclusive public sanitation business

    FSM in Gulariya Municipality – An arduous journey

    After the project completion, Gulariya Municipality was supported to develop a business plan for sustainable operation and maintenance of the FSTP system. The municipality has planned to operate the FSTP system along with solid waste management (SWM) in the same premises. This has helped the municipality to showcase the integrated model for management of solid waste as well as liquid waste. The premises was developed as a solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) facility.

    Pictures: (L) Completed FSTP with composting plant and (R) sorting of recyclable plastics

    Looking back study

    A year after the project completion, an assessment study was carried out to assess the health impact of improved sanitation and environmental sanitation related activities carried out by Safa and Swastha Gulariya project. The specific objective was to ascertain the changes from the project intervention of open defecation free (ODF) and total sanitation on i) incidence and impact of water borne diseases in ODF and total sanitation communities of targeted peoples, and ii) impact on health due to i) sanitation improvement (ODF) and ii) integrated WASH (total sanitation). An abstract of this assessment can be assessed at WECC37.

    The 1% requirement

    The data collected during the assessment period showed 1.1% equivalent to 1 household had no access to toilet. The main reason behind this was the filling of pit connected to the toilet and the family reverting back to the practice of open defecation as they did not have the service of mechanised emptying of pits after they get filled up.

    This 1% shows the importance of faecal sludge management for mechanical emptying of pits and septic tanks in the municipality to sustain the long gained behaviour change to construct and use toilets in the home rather than practising open defecation.

     

    What is happening now?

    The Gulariya FSTP is under operation now and the municipality is providing the on-demand service for emptying service. Cracked sludge cakes and liquid percolating out through collection system is showing the sludge drying beds are working in order. The main function of sludge drying beds is to retain the solid part on top and let the liquid (waste water) percolate to anaerobic baffled reactor (ABR) for further treatment.

    Pictures: Sludge drying beds (L and M) and wastewater coming out of sludge drying bed (R)

    And finally the treated wastewater from ABR is further treated using constructed wetland with horizontal flow bed planted with Canna lily and Phragmites karka.

    Picture: Horizontal flow sub-surface constructed wetland

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  • Elevated hand pumps supply clean water during floods


    June 18th, 2018

    Dakshin Sahipur, a small village near the bank of the Karnali River in southern Nepal, gets flooded every year. Most of the residents here are former bonded labourers, freed after the Government of Nepal abolished the bonded labour system in 2002. The government provided five kattha of land (around 1.700 square metres) for each family for their sustenance. However, the land provided was prone to flood during monsoon and drought for the rest of the year.

    One of the residents, Phoolbashni Chaudhary, 45, explains:

    “Every monsoon, our land gets flooded, we lose our crops and more often we lack clean drinking water. Our hand pumps get submerged in flood waters for more than a week. Even after the flood recedes, small water beetle like insects come out with the water for a month.”

    a. Common hand-pump in Phoolbashni’s house. b. Phoolbashni Chaudhary carrying water from raised hand-pump

    The hand pump is a major source for drinking water in this area. But because of its height it is submerged during floods. Flood water enters into the hand pump and contaminates the water. When the flood recedes, small water beetles come along with water from the pump and people can only use the water after filtering it through cloth.

    The government provides water purification tablets as part of the relief materials after the flood recedes. But because the information on the use of these tablets was unclear, people used to put all the tablets directly into the hand pumps.

    Khadananda Jaishi, a neighbour of Phoolbashni shyly said,

    “We had no idea about the use of the water purification tablets so we used to put the tablets directly in the hand pumps and simply filter the water to remove the insects. Now we understand, why we used to fall sick after flooding!”

    Things are different now for the residents of Dakshin Sahipur.   Community members have constructed an eight foot tall raised platform for the hand pump along with a deep bore system for irrigation. They use the hand pump for drinking water during monsoon and irrigation at other times.

    Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) provided 60% of the cost of building the raised hand pump.  Practical Answers, the knowledge service of Practical Action, is supporting the communities to develop the knowledge and skills required for different livelihoods by providing relevant training.

    Thanks to the deep bore irrigation and the training, member of the community have started growing vegetables commercially. Khadnanda Jaishi was able to earn NPR 40,000 (£278) selling sponge gourds and pumpkins in the three months’ from March to May this year.

    Phoolbashni happily said, “We don’t need to worry about drinking water during the monsoon and we are making the best use of it in other months of the year as well.”

    She added, “We had never thought we will be able to grow vegetables in this dry and sandy soil but now we are making profit of at least NPR 5000 (£35) a month.

    It has really changed our daily routine and life.”

    Khadananda and Phoolbashni busy in their vegetable garden

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  • Sun, Water, Life


    June 15th, 2018

    There was an Afghan, a Pakistani, an Ethiopian, a Somalian and an Englishman…. Sounds like the start of a bad joke but fortunately it is not!

    But it is a reflection of the global interest in addressing the crucial issue of access to affordable water supplies that are so needed to sustain communities, particularly those without access to affordable energy and reliant on agriculture for food security and income generation.

    All of these nationalities were squashed in friendly harmony in the back of taxi making introductions on the way to a two day workshop on the use of solar power for pumping water.

    The workshop was hosted by the solar water pumping company Lorentz at their technology centre in Hamburg. Lorentz are a German company and have been focused on solar water pumping for more than 20 years (Sun, Water, Life is their mantra). They doing nothing else but solar water pumping systems, from development to manufacture to installation and aftercare through a global network of distributors and partners.

    They have a wealth of experience in installing systems in some very challenging locations and conditions and across a range of applications from refugee camps to remote impoverished communities. What perhaps sets them apart from other pump manufacturers is their integration, and application of, software into the pump controller and an app based interface to monitor and control pump performance. They also have an app based system that can enable PAYG services for the provision of water, either for household use or irrigation.

    Setting aside any particular manufacturer what became absolutely clear for the assorted participants is that it makes little sense to look at energy, water and food in isolation of each other. For those struggling to meet their daily needs in rural communities these three resources are increasingly under pressure from population growth and the impacts of climate change. The ability to pump water using free clean energy to irrigate land and provide improved sanitation gets to the heart of this challenge.

    Of course what is not free is the technology to make this happen. The upfront investment cost of a good quality system is still higher than that of a diesel or petrol pump. However, this is soon recovered (can be as little as 2 years) when the cost of fuel and maintenance is taken into account.

    And the cost of solar pumping has decreased significantly over the last 5 years as the panels required to capture this free energy have tumbled in price as they have become a commodity item.

    So how can this cost be met?

    Two approaches, using widely available technology in the areas we work in, were shared during the workshop:

    • Pay at point of extraction (Pay at pump) – A pump is loaded with credits. This allows for pre-payment of water either locally or centrally.
    • Pay at point of delivery (Pay at tap) Consumers pre-load secure tokens with credits (litres). Smart Taps dispense water and reduce credits on the token.

    As Practical Action we already have a number of projects on the go making use of solar power for irrigation and the provision of drinking water. This includes working with small holder farmers in Zimbabwe to help them to increase their income through the use of solar powered irrigation to improve crop production, and getting better prices for their produce in the local market.

    With the costs decreasing and the technology forever improving the opportunities to harness this free energy source in emerging economies are increasingly being recognised by both the private and public sector. We seek to encourage this and find innovative ways to scale up affordable use of this technology.

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  • Menstrual hygiene management – a basic need


    May 27th, 2018

    by Makfie Farah & Nusrat Anwar

    It is the twenty first century and menstruation, a natural biological system, is still a matter of social taboo. Women and girls cannot open up about menstruation and feel ashamed because of this natural bodily function.

    More than 85% of the women and girls in rural areas still use cloth during menstruation and they dry these cloths in a hidden place – none of which can be considered safe hygiene practice. Many adolescent girls miss at least three school days during each menstrual cycle and only 1% of schools have menstrual pad disposal facilities. As a result, they lose scholarships and drop out of school, which leads to early marriage. In the academic curricula, there is a section focusing on MHM issues, but in reality almost every school avoids this chapter. Low-cost sanitary napkins are hardly available in remote and hard to reach areas.

    SaniMart

    Practical Action started SaniMart in 2010 in Gaibandha Municipality to stimulate and sensitize safe menstrual hygiene practices and recently added an incinerator for burning used napkins safely. This approach involved adolescent girls and initiated learning centres to promote low-cost and safe menstrual hygiene products. SaniMart also supported the practice of safe menstrual hygiene behaviours of adolescent girls and women. The main objective of this approach was to enrich the knowledge and skills of adolescent girls in the production and use of low-cost sanitary napkins. SaniMart has been successful in empowering girls by getting them involved in trading and other productive activities.

    There is no doubt that SaniMart helped empower many adolescent girls. They helped their families with their earnings, learned how to trade, and promoted safe menstrual hygiene practice throughout the community.

    Need to include all

    However, there is another side of the coin we’ve missed – by making SaniMart an all-girl initiative, we still could not break the silence about menstruation. This is an approach that sensitized the menstrual hygiene practices among adolescent girls and women, but they did not include the participation of men in any step of the process. Thus, the inclusiveness of the approach only included half of the community people we worked with. The beautiful packets of the sanitary pads are still wrapped in dark papers so that no one sees what is inside when a girl carries that. We also came to know from one of the SaniMart girls that they hardly ever talk about their work in schools because there is a chance that their peers will make fun of them. And we would wonder when and how menstruation became a matter people can ridicule.

    Menstruation matters – to everyone, everywhere

    We still ask girls and women to go through this on their own without engaging their male counterparts.  Menstruation happens every month to almost half of the world population. We must have #NoMoreLimits to talk about menstruation with anyone who matters in our lives.

    * Data source:  Bangladesh National Hygiene Assessment draft report 2014

     

     

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  • Why I felt it was important to break the silence


    April 13th, 2018

    This year on the International Women’s Day, I felt like sharing my personal story relating to “Menstruation”. Yes, we bleed! It is not comfortable!

    Perhaps the most discomforting part is the practice of tiptoeing around it. Periods are the “one issue” we have been going to an extreme length to hide about ourselves. Everyone knows we are getting them, but we cannot talk about it!

    What we do during period?

    Women in Bangladesh, generally, do not talk about periods to men. Not even with their fathers or brothers. Women often feel too shy to go to a pharmacy and buy sanitary napkins in front of men. I have personally witnessed my friend refraining from buying them even at the situation of dire need, just because a man from her neighbourhood was in the pharmacy. My friend hesitated, and then decided to buy some cold medicine, which she did not even need, to justify her presence in the pharmacy to him. A couple of years back I would have done the same thing if I was in that situation. That is what how we were brought up – we grew up believing, “no one must know I get periods”.

    Growing up in a Muslim family, surrounded by Muslim neighbours and classmates, I have also practised and witnessed the strategy our mothers took to ‘hide’ periods from the male members’ of the family. Muslim women are excused from their Islamic duties of saying their prayers for five times a day, or fasting during the month of Ramadan on the days they have their period. Since ‘not praying’ or ‘not fasting’ would be a dead giveaway – all these women would “pretend” to pray, and wake up in the middle of the night[1] to pretend they will be fasting the next day.

    That was as far as the struggle of ‘hiding period’ from others goes. Now let me talk about the actual experience itself. It is important to understand that each woman experiences period differently. The struggle starts at an early age, from school days. According to the UN, only 1 in 3 girls in South Asia are unaware about menstruation prior to starting. It causes significant embarrassment and trauma. Those with irregular cycles might experience sudden bleeding, anytime, anywhere. Managing it, when it starts, is a whole other issue. According to the Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014, 82% of girls think that school facilities are inadequate for managing menstruation.

    Some women, including myself, experience extreme abdominal pain, on top of the obvious discomfort. The pain disrupts our daily lives – personally, socially, professionally we can no longer function the way we normally do. The Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014 showed that about 40% of girls miss school for an average of 3 days/month due to period related discomfort.

    I have been suffering from extreme abdominal pain during menstruation since 2015. Being a working woman since 2011, I have tried working through the pain since the beginning. My female colleagues from my previous workplace, though they sympathised, were strict on their position of keeping it hidden whenever a man walked by. My proposal for keeping sanitary napkin in the office, be it in the first aid box, or managed by our female admin official to deliver upon request, was met with serious laughter. To these women, a woman who did not take appropriate measure to face her period any day, any time, were committing a serious crime. In their eyes, a woman should be taking care of this issue by herself, the office should not be responsible for catering to her need relating to this.

    It is not surprising that the majority of professionals, even women, think this way. I have worked through pain, tried neutralising the pain with high powered painkillers for years. Four months after joining Practical Action, I finally gathered up all my guts to walk up to my manager, and tell him about my suffering. I honestly do not know that made me gather that courage. Perhaps the inclusive attitude from everyone at the office made me feel safe. My manager not only sympathised, but also asked me to write an application to “work from home” during those days. When I responded by saying that I did not wish to take any additional benefits only because I was a woman, he assured me that taking ‘work from home’ was not that at all. Rather, it was essential to take care of oneself to perform the best for the betterment of the organisation.

    I was soon shifted under another manager, due to a change in organisational structure. Luckily, my new manager, was equally supportive in this matter. Whether I wanted to work from home, or start for work a bit later than the usual time, he was totally fine with it.

    Gradually, some sense started to come to me. It soon hit me that I was discussing my issue with my managers who were men. I excluded the men who matter to me the most – my father and my elder brother. It took me 18 years to finally pick up the phone and call my father to ask him to buy me some sanitary napkin. Sure, he was not comfortable, nor was I. However, it was a call that was 18 years too late. It was a late realisation that there was no need to hide this. He witnesses my suffering on a regular basis. If anything, me opening up to him helped him understand my suffering even more.

    Why did I feel it was important to break the silence?

    I am sure, a lot of people are already labelling me as ‘shameless’ – speaking of womanly matters in public. Honestly, I do not care! It is a regular part of my life, a regular part of any woman’s life. It is important to discuss it in the open because periods can cause significant discomfort and trauma and no woman should have to face it alone. No woman should feel ashamed of such a regular natural phenomenon. No woman should feel the need to wake up in the dead of the night, “pretending” to fast in front of her male family members to successfully hide that she is on her period. No woman should feel uncomfortable about buying sanitary napkins just because a neighbourhood “chacha” is in the same pharmacy. To sum it up – no need to hide something that makes us who we are – women!

    When we celebrate women’s day each March 8, our focus should not be wearing purple, or holding a banner. All men and women should work on ensuring a friendly environment for both the sexes about raising the issues we face on a regular basis to those who do not face it, but are in a position to create an enabling environment for minimising it.

    [1] In order to fast during the month of Ramadan, one requires having food before sunrise, which is called Sahri

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  • FSM in Bangladesh: How to operationalize the Institutional and Regulatory Framework?


    March 28th, 2018

    Bangladesh is considered a role model in the world for its achievement in providing access to sanitation for all. Currently, more than 99% of people in Bangladesh use toilets. The positive progress has created challenges. Issues such as how to empty the toilets, and how to deal safely with the faecal sludge need to be addressed. Manual emptying by informal workers, and indiscriminate and untreated disposal lead to serious environmental pollution and bring adverse impacts on water quality and public health. The informal emptiers have a big role in the current Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) market system but their dignity and working environment is a big issue.

    Last year (2017), the Government of Bangladesh published an Institutional Regulatory Framework (IRF) setting out the roles, responsibilities and coordination of different agencies (i.e Department of Public Health and Engineering, Utility Companies – WASAs, Urban and Rural Government Institutes & private sector) to tackle the FSM challenges. The framework was developed collaboratively by ITN-BUET (Centre for Water Supply and Waste Management), Practical Action and others and includes many of the key issues Practical Action wanted to see promoted. The initiative is highly appreciated by the global development partners. The burning issue now is how to operationalize this framework and bring visible and tangible impact on the ground.

    The country is yet to develop solutions which are proven to be technically feasible and reliable, socially acceptable, financially and economically viable and can be managed by the existing institutions. However, a number of organizations is doing research, innovations, piloting and demonstration work to create the evidence of the whole FSM service and value chain – including containment, emptying, transportation and treatment of sludge for resource recovery and its market promotion. These endeavors, including our own in Faridpur, have created useful examples and provided evidence in particular circumstances but are yet to go to scale. One of the biggest learnings from these initiatives is that capacities are limited at all tiers i.e. grass roots, local, sub national and national level to improve FSM and to operationalize IRF.  

    The government is not short of resources, and could invest in scaling up solutions for greening the economy and for sustainable growth. The most recent example is the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge, the biggest infrastructural development project,  which the country developed without any financial assistance from external development partners.

    The time has come to think how we can build national, sub national and local capacity in an integrated, holistic and coordinated way to operationalize the IRF.

    A national capacity building program needs to address different aspects and engage many stakeholders. For example, changes in behavior and community practices for safe disposal of sludge is a big issue. Both social and electronic media has a significant role in popularizing messages to call for actions to stop unsafe disposal. However, the businesses are not properly orientated and they lack capacity.

    Informal groups, small and medium entrepreneurs and large scale private companies can play a big role in operating the business of improving the FSM services and treatment businesses. The local authority can invite the private sector and can create public private partnerships to leverage resources to improve the services. However, their institutional capacity is not up to the mark for design, development, management and monitoring this partnership.

    The professional capacity of consulting firms to design context specific appropriate FSM schemes is also an issue. The contractors that are responsible for construction of the faecal sludge treatment plant, secondary transfer stations and other physical facilities are yet to be developed. Similarly, the capacity of local manufacturers to fabricate pumps, machines and vehicles to empty and to transfer the sludge to the disposal sites is yet to be developed. Last but not least, finance institutions (including development banks, climate and green financing agencies, micro financing organizations) need to understand the sector better and focus on building their capacities to make sure there is enough investment to tackle the issues on FSM. The Department of Environment (DoE) needs to be on board for setting and regulating standards for improved FSM. Research & development capacity is extremely limited, especially when it comes to researching different aspects – particularly social, economic, environmental and health aspects. The Government should have a National Plan of Action for effective implementation of IRF on the ground.

    The emerging question is how to build this local and national capacity to optimize the impact from the current and future investment programs around FSM by the Government of Bangladesh and their lending partners Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. This capacity building is a big responsibility and cannot be delivered by any single organization alone.

    The country urgently needs to form a coalition/consortium of FSM organizations – led by Policy Support Branch of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. These parties can designate and hire credible organizations to make a good action plan for short, medium and long term in participation with all stakeholders. This consortium should utilize the comparative strength of each organization and the organizations should not compete with each other. Practical Action is keen to play a part in such a consortium, drawing from our experiences on the ground, and our knowledge of ‘where capacities are lacking’ and ‘what are the best ways of building them.

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