Water, sanitation and waste | Blogs

  • 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

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • 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.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • MY EXPERIENCE IN CSW62


    March 23rd, 2018

    It was my first time to the United States and I was so excited about visiting US and participating in the UNCSW62. Before travelling, I almost told everyone close to me that I am going to the UN and that I have got an opportunity to speak about some of our work in India. As much I was excited, I was nervous too about the presentation, as it went several rounds of revisions with the CSW62 preparatory team (Charlotte, Loise, Patricia and me), but finally a decent presentation was all set to go. I had to speak more than what was written on the slides and so I sort of practised the presentation within myself. In the other hand, I thank Chris, who was getting all logistics organised at New York so that we have a good stay. I must thank Sarah Sandon for her guidance and for approving my participation in the CSW62.

    The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was held from 12-23 March 2018. Practical Action was represented by Loise Maina – Gender Advisor and Arun Hial – M & E Manager (Me) from India. Unfortunately, a third member – Patricia Monje Cuadrado, Chief fundraiser based in Bolivia was not able to travel to New York due to a family emergency.

    We were expected to participate and represent in FOUR separate sessions.

    The first one was ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ organised by NAWO. The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) is an umbrella organisation of over 100 organisations and individuals working to make gender equality a reality. The Alliance has been accrediting young women and men still at school (16-18) to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women for over a decade. Loise Maina discussed relevant strategies to empower women and girls and provided some relevant examples from Practical Action’s work with rural communities. This session resulted in better understanding of the NAWO delegation on the overall purpose and context of the CSW2018 theme.

    The second session was ‘Innovation – using ICTs to empower rural women’ organised by ADVANCE who work in the priority areas of entrepreneurship, education and justice for women and girls.  I got the opportunity to share about how Practical Action is using media and ICT to raise awareness and share knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst girls in India through the innovative ‘Sunolo Sakhi Project’. As a result of this presentation, people shown interest to get connected with us or get us connected with relevant organisations that can support in scaling up this programme. We have lined up follow up actions on this. Oh there was so many questions about the presentation, everyone wanted to know more about Sunolo Sakhi.. I would say about 90% of the questions were around my presentation, and of course it’s not because they did not understand what I said, but the questions were seeking more information about the program.

    The third one was “Increasing prosperity for rural women: Implementing gendered SDGs targets in goals 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16”. This session was organised by the UK NGO Alliance that works with partners based in the UK, as well as with local partner organisations across the world. Loise Maina, Gender Advisor shared about Practical Action’s work to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets in the cocoa value chain. This session was considered to be quite practical and helped to demonstrate proven interventions that can help improve rural communities’ livelihoods. Loise had prepared herself with a PowerPoint presentation, however, the session did not have opportunity for that and needed a five minute speech. Loise managed this so wonderfully with huge confidence and she was very clear on what she wanted to communicate with the audience. About questions, yes there were questions to Loise and they got relevant answers. This session was chaired by one of the Hon’ble MPs of UK.

    The fourth session was “Innovative Use of Media for Rural Women and Girls”. This session was organised by PRIDE which works with organizations across the region to ensure education that promotes holistic development options.  I could share experience from the implementation of the Sunolo Sakhi project in India that promotes awareness and education on menstrual hygiene through ICTs and media. This has created a space for Practical Action’s gender work and that is well accepted. This too was a quite engaging session, now some of the old faces have sort of accepted Practical Action doing Sunolo Sakhi kind of work.

    Apart from these four sessions, we were engaged in many of the side events suggested by Sarah and Charlotte time to time, it really helped us to get to the relevant ones. The overall experience in CSW62 was great and we could participate in number of sessions knowing about gender issues in different spaces as well as networking and connecting with new people and organisations. We have a list of follow ups to be done and have listed lessons learnt for those who will be taking part in future CSW events.

    We could also do some sightseeing together in Times Square and World Trade Centre etc.

    I was blessed and privileged to be one of the participants from Practical Action and it was worth attending CSW62.

    Look forward for the new connections and collaborations to take its own shape to benefit the underprivileged women and girls.

    JAI HO

    For more information, please contact

     

    Arun Hial (Arun.Hial@practicalaction.org)

    Loise Maina (Loise.Maina@practicalaction.or.ke)

    Some more pictures

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Water is life for villagers in Darfur


    March 20th, 2018

     

    A simple solution like a solar powered water pump can have a profound impact on a community. This is eloquently demonstrated in these first-hand accounts from residents of two villages in drought-prone North Darfur.

    These stories were collected and written by Hamid Bakheet. 

    “We were at the margin of survival. Most of the villagers have moved elsewhere to find water. It’s really hard to leave your homeland but the even harder to survive without water.

    We used to travel for about three hours on our donkeys to seek water for our families. You can imagine what that means. Going for water every other day meant you could only work fifteen days a month reducing our income.  The amount of water we could transport was not great.  At best we had enough to shower three times a week but usually only once a week.

    Now through this work with Practical Action everything has changed.  Our solar water pump has which has changed our life dramatically.  Now it is the easiest thing to get water, even the children can go alone to bring water for their families.”

    Believe it or not when I saw water coming out from the pump for the first time I felt something like a cloud covering my eyes.  It was tears of happiness, although is shaming for a Darfurian man to show tears!”

    Altayeb from Kweim village, north Darfur

    Hawaa from Mugabil village also expresses her joy at the new facility

    “In the past when there was no water in our village, pastoralists and farmers often came to blows. Now it’s very rare to hear that a conflict has happened. We women were usually exhausted because we had to go for about four kilometers to bring a small amount of water for all our needs, drinking, cooking, washing and showering.

    When we had a guest and there was no water, we used to borrow water from our neighbours!  And it was not good for our donkeys to carry water all that distance. A donkey might be expected to live for twenty years but the lives of our donkeys were reduced to only about five years.

    We also faced the risk of gender based violence on those long water gathering trips, but now with water become available here we are safe.  And the time we were spending in going for water we now use for other domestic, economic and personal activities. 

    We even become more beautiful because we can wash and shower every day,” laughed Hawaa!

    This project was designed by Practical Action and financed by the Swedish Postcode Foundation to provide water for both settled and pastoralist communities in the villages of Mugabil and Kweim in north Darfur. It benefits more than 8,000 individuals who live in the areas surrounding Mugabil and Kweim as well as 2,000 pastoralists.

    The most obvious impacts of this project are an increase in water access and quality in the area. Now clean water for drinking and cooking is available for the whole community and for pastoralists and their livestock.  This will have a significant benefit to the health of the community.  The community water management committee is taking responsibility for managing the water supply to ensure its sustainability.  And the pump is operated by clean, renewable solar power so is helping keep both people and the environment safe.

    Seeing how happy these villagers are about the positive change in their life with water makes me proud to work for the organisation that made this possible.

     

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • ‘Woman’s Hour’ in Odisha

    Growing up and becoming a young woman in India can be a confusing, terrifying prospect in some rural and poor urban communities. Young women are given the barest of facts and no proper explanation of what is happening to their bodies. Traditions tell them they are both ‘unclean’ while menstruating; and that they are ‘now a woman’. They face up to the terrifying prospect (still practiced in some rural communities) of physical isolation in separate huts for the entirely of their period; as well as the potential of early marriage (despite child marriage being made illegal) to a man likely twice their age or more.

    Sunolo Sakhi radio broadcast

    So what can a simple radio show do in this context? How can the broadcast word make any difference? Of course it cannot be powerful on its own, but when combined with the courage of those teenagers and young adults, it can create shock-waves of change.

    This is something I heard about first hand during a visit to Sunolo Sakhi clubs in the town of Bhubaneswar in Odisha State in November last year. Their Facebook page is here. And see this short Video to find out more.

    A radio show now in its 3rd series with more than 30 hours being on air so far and being broadcast across six towns in the state of Odisha is allowing young women the chance to understand menstruation and all that surrounds it. The show, broadcast for an hour on a Saturday afternoon and then available as a podcast, allows girls to phone in and ask questions of an expert. Practical Action has supported the radio show, and helped girls and young women to form clubs at the community level where they can get together to listen to the show and discuss it.

    Sunolo Sakhi in braille

    To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD, the team launched a braille version of the accompanying material: part of a commitment to make it even more widely accessible.

    These girls have not had an easy time of it. They had to fight with their mothers and fathers to be allowed to even meet up. There was fear that the knowledge would be disrespectful and turn their daughters against them. All this simply to listen to a radio show together once a week.

    The groups have been built, by social community workers. Building trust is essential, we start with a small number of slums (15 per month), and groups are now operating in 80 slums. Social mobilisers work with mothers in the community to build trust. These ice-breaking activities are essential: menstrual hygiene remains a cultural taboo and without building trust, awareness and openness girls would not be granted approval to join the clubs. Forming clubs is not easy, and it is essential to work closely with mothers and other families and community members, especially men.

    Members of the Sunolo Sakhi club

    On the show, questions are answered about the practicalities of menstruation: what is normal; and whether the myths they’ve been handed down are really true. They sometimes listen with their mothers. It opens a space for discussion, guided and organised by local facilitators. This may be the start of allowing these young women some basic agency. In urban contexts at least it can help gradually change the myths that constrain them. They will never forget what they’ve learned from week to week – and when asked how they would pass it on to their daughters they were adamant that the secrecy and taboos of the past would end in their generation.

    Speaking at launch of Sunolo Sakhi braille edition

    I confess I’m a fan of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – a national treasure of British radio which has been occasionally criticised as being too ‘safe’ with its discussions of how to make the best cakes, but also for being dangerously radical. It shares an objective of being a space where women lead the discussion about the topics of the day and how they experience them. It was a revelation to hear from these young women about the power of radio to both challenge and inform.

    What did the girls think should be the future of the show? They felt there was still much to do on the issue of menstrual hygiene, but other associated issues were important too, in particular questions of child marriage, and there certainly seemed a huge appetite for the format and content.

    Sadly no commercial radio station wants to take the show on with its own resources. But for the time being Practical Action hopes to continue our support. Personally I have rarely seen such fantastic value for money in empowering girls to take control.

    Happy International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD #pressforprogress

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Managing the sanitation challenge for Rohingya refugees


    February 15th, 2018

    Nearly a million people of Rohingya community are living in the makeshift shelters in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

    Hasin Jahan, Practical Action’s country director in Bangladesh, recently visited the camp and describes her experience.

    It felt like one fine morning half a million Rohingya people just landed on the doorstep! It may be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis ever.

    It has been well managed with the government and agencies working together to provided the Rohingya communities with food, non-food items, shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

    All the greenery has disappeared from the hills around the camp. And when the monsoon season arrives, there will be the risk of flooding and landslides. But, against all odds, life goes on.

    An experience during my last visit still brings tears in my eyes. I met a woman whose husband and son were killed in front of her. When I entered her room at the shelter, I noticed that she had made a mud stove, a mortar and pestle out of rocks, and a small washing area from mud and bricks at the corner of her tiny room. She had also made an overhead shelf that had two cooking pots, her only possessions. The gravity of the situation touched me so much when I understood that she still had that desire to build a home and a family.

    Various agencies have constructed toilet facilities and drilled boreholes for drinking water to manage the immediate crisis. But it soon became obvious that the absence of proper management of toilet waste posed severe public health concerns. The toilets filled up quickly and were overflowing and contaminating  the water sources with E. coli.

    Because of our expertise in delivering faecal sludge management systems in Bangladesh, Practical Action was approached to help manage the safe disposal of this waste, in order to protect the health of these community, the environment and the quality of the water.

    It was not easy to tailor the technology, given the hilly terrain, lack of skilled labour, and space constraints due to a densely packed population. But Practical Action took up the challenge and devised portable faecal sludge management units made of steel with rainproof shed at the camps at Ukhyia.

    How does the technology work?

    The technology uses a simple upflow filtration system. The faecal sludge is collected mechanically using suction pumps

    and discharged through a series of filtration chambers to separate liquids from solids. The liquid passes through a number of filter chambers. The effluent is finally treated by a natural process in a ‘constructed wetland’ through the roots of of Canna indica plants. The solid parts are removed at a certain intervals to bury in pits with sand envelop. After a certain time, it get digested and can be used as compost.

    Another important consideration was the health and safety of the sanitation workers who clean and empty the toilets. So training and provision of safety equipment play a key part in this work.

    Need for safer energy

    There are two other ways Practical Action can help the displaced communities. In view of the danger of cooking in tents and the quantity of waste plastic lying around in the camp, we are planning to install a bio-gas cooking facility using gas extracted from the faecal sludge plants. Another facility planned is a plastic recycling unit to make toys out of waste plastic. This will not only reduce the pollution but also provide toys the children in these communities can play with.

    Further reading

    http://ibtbd.net/hasin-jahan-country-director-practical-action/

    http://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/politics-climate-change/tackling-the-environmental-challenges-coxs-bazar-1530940

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Christmas: introducing the concept of giving


    December 12th, 2017

    I love this time of year. I am not ashamed to admit that I am one of those that eagerly awaits the Christmas John Lewis advert with great expectation, in the hope that it lives up to the previous year’s festive treat.

    Gorgeous Goat

    My tree is ready and waiting to be decorated by the first weekend of December and plans are already in place for a Christmas feast with family and friends. Of course, being a mummy, I have unashamedly pushed my Christmas obsession onto my 5 year old daughter, although she never needed very much persuasion to join in with the Christmas spirit. The Christmas story has been requested half a dozen times already at bedtime and it’s still only November.

    We have sat down together to write her Christmas letter to Santa. I spent most of the time trying to discourage her from adding the entire contents of the Argos catalogue to it and I found myself repeating “ but Santa only has a small sleigh and he has to deliver presents to all the children” several times over.

    Introducing the concept of giving and not just receiving, I will be honest, is a slow burner for my little one. But she is coming round to the idea – slowly! She does however love the idea of picking presents for mummy;  which is a huge relief especially as daddy isn’t the best at presents – the minion bubble bath from last year still sits unopened on top of the bathroom cabinet and the singing Orangutan from the year before has found pride of place in the back of the cupboard.

    Giving a charity gift at Christmas time, such as a Practical Present, is something I think that my daughter could get on board with. The novelty of purchasing a quirky gift such as a Gorgeous Goat to help farmers in Bangladesh, or some Snazzy Soap to help children in Kenya get access to clean, safe water, would make her feel very proud and would give her a great story to share with her class mates at share time.

    Snazzy Soap

    I find buying Christmas presents both a joy and a nightmare, especially if I have someone difficult to buy for. But rather than spending money on something that is likely to end up at the back of a cupboard, like my poor old Orangutan (just to clarify – it isn’t real!) why not use the money to buy a Practical Present and make a real difference to the lives of people living in poverty around the world.

    Snazzy Soap is just one of the gifts from our Safe Pair of Hands collection which also includes Tippy Tap and Safe Pair of Hands. If you decide to purchase one of these special presents this Christmas, gifts will be matched £ for £ by The UK Government (up to a total of £5 million). Which means there really is no better time to get into the Christmas spirit, turn up those Christmas songs and buy a present that really does keep on giving, a Practical Present.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Trade-offs and choices: realities in urban sanitation projects

    Development charities don’t often talk about the difficulties; about the delays and frustrations. They will tell you of the awful situation people faced, and then “ta dah” here’s our solution. Why? Because we don’t want to apportion blame or appear somehow incompetent. But shouldn’t we try to look at the underlying difficulties: alert others, adjust our programming and try to make the system work better? Isn’t there value in being a little more transparent about the difficulties?

    My visit to 3 small towns in India’s Odisha State brought these issues home to me. We have been working there to improve the sanitation situation through a range of technology options, new social and community engagement structures, new partnerships with pit emptiers, and constructing treatment plants for the safe final disposal of the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks.

    We have faced pressures for swift action on the construction of physical infrastructure. This links to the Swachh Bharat Mission – a flagship program of the national government, aiming to make the nation open defecation free by 2019 (the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Ghandi) and to eliminate the practice of manual scavenging. Although it is ultimately the responsibility of municipalities to build and maintain water and sanitation infrastructures in the city, NGOs and civil society can support the process, and work in partnership to help achieve the government’s goals. As a result, NGOs like Practical Action have been given tight targets or deadlines to deliver on their activities. We have been asked to complete all infrastructures within a year. At the same time, the approvals process continues to be slow.

    In two of the towns, the focus of our attention has been on the successful completion of some ground-breaking pieces of infrastructure (in particular faecal sludge treatment plants which will be among the first in the state). If they can be shown to work successfully, they could be a trigger for others to follow, and for the municipalities themselves (who in this case see themselves as integral partners in the exercise) to champion the work. Dealing effectively and safely with faecal sludge is a fast-emerging issue which will only become a higher priority as the Swachh Bharat Mission moves fast on the construction of new toilets.

    Faecal sludge treatment plant under construction in Dhenkanal

    As a result, it has been an incredibly busy and complex time for the team of Practical Action and our local partner organisations. Some of the barriers they have had to overcome have included;

    • The need for approvals for construction, both to secure land and then for designs to be approved. For different types of infrastructure this has involved a whole range of different agencies at different levels, and can be extremely complex and time-consuming.
    • The lack of structure and clear plans at the municipal level for city-wide sanitation or waste management have meant decisions need to be taken from first principles each time.
    • Frequent changes of officials are common, but in some cases key municipal staff have changed 5 or 6 times over 12-18 months. A huge amount of time has to be invested in re-starting these relationships and ensuring understanding and commitments
    • Political pressures towards rapid completion of infrastructure, has squeezed the time available for adequate planning and engagement of all stakeholders in agreeing roles and responsibilities for system operation
    • The need for close interaction with government schemes which shape the available solutions, and which technologies are acceptable. For example, local rules apply to the quality of toilets that can be constructed, what subsidies are available under Swachh Bharat and how the up-front costs can be financed.

    With the Chairperson and Chief Officer, Dhenkanal

    What we have learned is that there are trade-offs and difficult choices to be made. For example:

    • To make any progress at all, especially in the early days of a relationship with a municipality, infrastructure may need to be delivered quickly, squeezing the time available for ideal amounts of planning and engagement with all stakeholders
    • Pressures of time, local regulations and common practices, used to try to ensure good quality construction can counter intentions to use labourers from the local community, or community engagement in other aspects of construction (such as procurement, quality checking, or keeping track of materials)
    • Pressures to start with things that are more within our own control, and which look impressive, ahead of less visible things that might in fact make the greatest difference to slum dwellers. Working on these may have to wait a little until we have built up trust.

    Taking an optimistic view, the pressure to complete construction, for example of the faecal sludge treatment plants, early on in the project (after one year of a two year project for example), does at least give us more time to work on getting the systems right and to monitor operation. In fact, this will ideally require longer than the year we have left to ensure all the hiccups in operation are addressed and resolved. The biggest challenges in the sanitation sector are all about sustained use, operation and maintenance. Community structures are in place to ensure their voices are heard in decision-making, but the detail of O&M still needs to be worked out.

    Community discussion on sanitation

    The World Urban Campaign’s vision is for the #cityweneed. A vision in which all residents have the opportunity for safe, healthy, and productive lives. Building on this, the New Urban Agenda endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the Habitat III conference in Quito in 2016 commits governments to urban development which ‘leaves no-one behind… providing equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services”. It promotes approaches which are “participatory, promote civic engagement, and engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants”.

    New Urban Agenda

    Achieving this as the direction for the achievement of SDG11 and in fact of all the SDGS in cities, will require pioneers, leadership and expertise. Demonstration of what is possible will help turn the tide on rampant inequalities and entrenched power bases. At the same time, the path can be full of obstacles both practical and political.

    • We need to learn, share and influence others to overcome these to achieve results in the best interests of the poorest residents.
    • We need to build trust in new ways of doing things so we can work in ways closer to the vision of the New Urban Agenda.

    There is a need for trust-building everywhere and increased capacity. Peer learning can be a powerful means of developing that, and it is something we hope to be able to foster more of over time in our programme in Odisha: between municipalities, between slum dwellers, between groups of informal workers.

    At Practical Action we will continue to learn and share our experiences, including the challenges. Watch this space!

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Our hands, our future


    November 24th, 2017

    Since 2008, Global Handwashing Day has been celebrated annually, worldwide on 15 October.  It presents an opportunity to campaign, motivate and mobilize people around the world to improve their handwashing habits by raising awareness about the benefits of handwashing with soap.

    This year Practical Action’s UKAid funded Aqua4East project, in collaboration with Kassala Women Association Network, (KWDAN) celebrated the day with the local community of Darasta, a village with a population of 7850 which lies 30 km north of Kassala. The theme was ‘Our health is in our hands.’

    Both Practical Action and KWDAN are active in the area, upgrading the water infrastructure, conducting sanitation activities with school clubs, and health promoters.  We are currently constructing two public latrines, and training local people in low tech block making. These activities aim at improving hygiene and changing behaviour.

    The Darasta community gathered at the local school for a full day program of speeches, music and drama.  KWDAN distributed hand washing equipment, soap bars, t-shirts, and posters. Certificates of appreciation were also awarded to a number of key community members and to organizations working with the community.

    Practical Action’s Water for East project manager Mr Musa Ibrahim said:

    Global Handwashing Day is an annual advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of hand washing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives”

    KWDAN Director Ms Hanan Zayed said:

    “In our state few use soap to wash their hands because soap and water for handwashing might be less accessible; we need to wash our hands with soap and water to dramatically cut the number of young children who get sick. Hand washing with soap could prevent about 1 out of every 10 episodes of diarrhoeal illnesses and almost 1 out of 6 episodes of respiratory infection, this can be simple and inexpensive.”

    The event was recorded and broadcast on Kassala State television.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Systematic engagement of stakeholders can improve the sanitation situations in Dhenkanal Municipality


    November 20th, 2017

    Written by Ganesh Parida, Senior Project Officer, Project Nirmal

    Dhenkanal Municipality, is a small town in the state of Odisha, India. Witha a total area of 30.92 Sq. km and it spreads over 23 municipal Wards. As per the 2011 Census, the total population of the town is 67,414, out of which 34,864 males and 32,550 females. About 11,105 Scheduled Caste and 4095 Scheduled Tribe population live in the town. The town is having 14908 households. There are 17 notified slums in the city. Dhenkanal city, the district headquarters has a cluster of temples, archaeological remains, and a medieval fort. The majority of this district is covered with dense forest and a long range of hills, which are home to elephants and tigers.

    If we will analyse the sanitation aspects of the city, about 68% of the non-slum HHs and about 16% of slum HHs in the town have access to toilets and the remaining 32% non-slum & 84% slum HHs are practicing open defecation in the open field, river bank, alongside ponds, drains or roadside.
    People without access to individual toilets rely either on public toilets or resort to open defecation. There are public toilets, but toilets are ill-maintained, local people are not using regularly due to a deficiency in proper O&M from the service provider.

    The sanitation facilities in schools and other institutions are also inadequacies and maintenances of these facilities are always questionable. There is no sewerage system in Dhenkanal Municipality. As a result majority of sewage flows through open drain. There are no treatment systems for faecal sludge in Dhenkanal Municipality at present. Disposal of septage is causing serious problems in the Municipality. The collected sludge is disposed of in low lands, open fields, water bodies and drains. There are manual scavengers in the city working informally without any proper personal protection equipment like gloves, eye protection wear, boots and protective clothes.

    About 20 MT of solid waste is currently being generated per day in the city. The major source of solid waste generation in the city is street sweeping followed by households, vegetable market, fruit market, hotels, restaurants, institutions, hospital, fish and meat shops etc. There is a designated dumping yard in Ward No-8 for the disposal of solid waste but not for the treatment.

    Again if we will see the sanitation service delivery system in the city, the Municipality has many challenges to handle the above-said issues due to inadequate infrastructures and facilities.
    With this background, Project Nirmal has been associated with the Municipality since 2015 to improve the sanitation service delivery systems focusing on faecal sludge management. The overall vision is the demonstration of sustainable sanitation service delivery for small towns leading to increased coverage of households and institutions through enabling institutional and financial arrangements and increased private sector participation.

    To make the program effective and sustainable, engagement of the key stakeholders are highly essential starting from community to state level. Different forums have been constituted at the State, district, city and the community levels to ensure the participation of various stakeholders and their contribution towards the implementation of the project.

    Slum Sanitation Committee (SSC) has been set up in each slum to facilitate community mobilization, community monitoring of the sanitation activities, demand generation and preparation of planning at the slum and Ward level. 18 Slum Sanitation Committees are facilitating the community processes at slum level.

    Ward Sanitation Committee (WSC) has been formed under the chairmanship of the Ward Councilor to facilitate in the identification of sanitation issues, demand generation, monitor sanitation service delivery and planning processes at the ward level. 23 Ward Sanitation Committees are actively involved in marginalizing the sanitation-related issues at ward level.
    City Sanitation Task Force (CSTF) under the Chairmanship of the Chairperson of the Municipality has been formed to monitor and extend hands-on support in terms of awareness generation, ensure City Sanitation and service delivery system.

    District Coordination Committee (DCC) under the chairmanship of the Collector and District Magistrate of Dhenkanal Municipality has been formed to oversee, review, monitor and guide the project implementation at the district level.

    Project Steering Committee (PSC) as an apex body of the project has been constituted at the state level under the chairmanship of the Commissioner-cum-Secretary to Government, Housing and Urban Development Department, Government of Odisha, to advise, oversee, monitor, review and guide the implementation of Project Nirmal in Dhenkanal Municipalities.

    The major initiative is to establish a Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) to address the issue of treating the liquid waste from the toilet pits. The CSTF and DCC have proactively made it possible to allow the required size of land for the construction of the FSTP and necessary supports extended to the Project for early execution of the construction activity. The construction of the FSTP is going on at Dhenkanal Municipality. It is proposed to complete it by end of this year and commissioned in the beginning of next year which would address the safe disposal of liquid waste from the toilet pits. Hope, this would improve the sanitation profile of the city.

    No Comments » | Add your comment