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Yesterday — December 4th 2020IRC Sanitation

Operation and maintenance opportunities in rural community sanitary complexes : thematic discussion series synthesis

December 4th 2020 at 15:58

Earlier sanitation campaigns in India showed poor demand for and use of rural community sanitary complexes (CSCs). How can India's national sanitation programme, Swachh Bharat Mission Phase II, do better?

In October-November 2020, the India Chapter of SuSanA conducted a thematic online discussion and webinar on Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Opportunities in Rural Community Sanitary Complexes (CSCs). This was to support efforts of a Task Force - comprising UNICEF India, Aga Khan Foundation, India Sanitation Coalition, Taru Leading Edge and IRC WASH - to provide inputs to India's Ministry of Jal Shakti, under Phase II of the Swachh Bharat Mission (national sanitation programme). The Mission prioritises the construction of CSCs in rural areas. Earlier sanitation campaigns in India showed poor demand for and use of rural CSCs. That's why it's important to understand the barriers and enablers and build on good practices, experiences and lessons learned. The thematic discussion and webinar covered the following topics: Factors influencing decisions to construct a CSC; Building O&M into the project life-cycle; Examples of successful O&M of rural CSCs; Lessons learned from construction and O&M of urban CSCs; Profitable PPP O&M contracts for local government; and Community engagement and behaviour change communication for O&M.

Before yesterdayIRC Sanitation

Reframing the challenges and opportunities for improved sanitation services in Eastern Africa through sustainability science

December 2nd 2020 at 09:51

Successful sanitation approaches were characterized by their adaptation to the local context, community participation, built-in mechanisms that ensure financial viability, use of technologies that are culturally appropriate and emphasis on environmental sustainability.

Sustainable sanitation services are still unavailable to most people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) despite decades of implementing very diverse sanitation projects across the continent. Using a Sustainability Science lens, this chapter identifies through an extended literature review the drivers and shortcomings of business-as-usual sanitation approaches that tend to fail in SSA. As one of the main challenges for the success of sanitation project is the creation of an enabling environment, we attempt to identify some of the critical elements that could support the development of such an environment. Subsequently we identify characteristics and competencies conducive to breaking the cycle of failure and to developing sustainable sanitation systems. We use data from key informant interviews with sanitation implementers, focus group discussions with sanitation facility users and visits to sanitation project sites in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The sanitation approaches explored, although different, are all characterized by their adaptation to the local context, community participation, built-in mechanisms that ensure financial viability, use of technologies that are culturally appropriate and emphasis on environmental sustainability. We offer several policy and practice recommendations for the development of successful sanitation governance structures for national governments, external support agencies and project implementers. The examples discussed in this chapter show promise, but do not guarantee success, as all solutions will require several iterations to adaptate to the local context, as well as financial and governance support, to be scaled up. [author abstract]

Strengthen WASH business in Ethiopia: access to foreign exchange

December 1st 2020 at 09:04
By: Bakker

For Ethiopia-based businesses that require imported goods or materials, accessing hard currency through the banking system is one of the biggest challenges they face. 

Sanitation business in Amhara region, Ethiopia

This article was written by Eline Bakker and Peter Feldman

In a series of posts, we will present the main challenges faced by Ethiopian businesses that are interested in expanding their range of WASH products and services. We will also highlight a set of recommended regulatory and policy actions to overcome these challenges. This first out of eight posts covers challenges related to access to foreign exchange. 

According to the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme, only about seven percent of Ethiopians have access to basic sanitation services (JMP, 2019). Achieving universal access to basic WASH services in Ethiopia will require further development of the country’s private sector. The Government of Ethiopia recognizes the importance of the private sector in generating demand and creating access to materials and services for construction of improved latrines, and leads market-based sanitation efforts (FMoH, 2016). However, the scale of the challenge of providing access to adequate sanitation services to all is still relatively substantial compared to the amount and size of businesses currently offering such products and services. To gain more insights, the USAID Transform WASH team talked to more than twenty key informants in Ethiopia and the East Africa region to identify the main challenges facing the WASH market development in Ethiopia.

To learn more, follow this link to the full Learning Note.

Access to Foreign Exchange

To purchase a product for import into any country, the national currency must be converted to a “hard currency,” one that is accepted by a seller for purchase of the product, through the foreign exchange market. In Ethiopia, this might include purchase and import of finished goods, raw materials or equipment needed for local manufacturing. The country imports significantly more goods than it exports (US$ 15 billion in imports vs. US$ 2 billion in exports in 2018). This trade deficit, which has hovered around US$ 12-13 billion per year since 2014, has led to high demand for Forex (foreign exchange), which is in very short supply, exacerbated by below-market official exchange rates (World Bank, 2018).

The government allowed the Ethiopian birr to devalue by 15 percent in 2017, and it has continued to depreciate since then. Analysts predict that the currency will continue to undergo a “managed devaluation” to levels that are closer to a free floating market rate in an effort to encourage more foreign investment and address the country’s trade imbalance (World Bank, 2017). Devaluation of the birr requires purchasers of imports to use an ever-increasing amount of their national currency to obtain the same amount of Forex, effectively increasing the cost of all imports and decreasing the price of exports to international purchasers using hard currency.

For Ethiopia-based businesses that require imported goods or materials, accessing hard currency through the Ethiopian banking system is often identified as their biggest challenge as some sectors and businesses are prioritized over others. A contributor to the Ethiopian Business Review also expressed that “all transactions requiring foreign exchange are not created equal”,

Forex is tightly controlled within the banking system. A major portion of available Forex is earmarked for government infrastructure projects, such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and other national priorities. Thirty percent of Forex coming into commercial banks is transferred to the Central Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), which earmarks it for purchase of strategic materials, such as fossil fuels. The remaining Forex is then allocated to fulfill business requests in accordance with prioritization rules. Bank “allocation committees” are responsible for matching available Forex with submitted applications. Prioritization tends to follow a basic system:

  1. Priority allocations, including external debt repayments (closely monitored by CBE) and payment of foreign employees.
  2. Materials considered “essential imports”, such as fuel and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and certain manufacturing inputs, equipment and spare parts, profit and dividend transfers, nutritional foods for infants, and educational materials.
  3. Other “non-essential” requests (Lloyd and Teshome, 2018).

Forex requests from non-strategic businesses or for “non-essential” purposes, therefore, are queued and wait their turn for available funds. Businesses, including those offering WASH products, often wait many months to obtain the Forex that they have requested, and they may not have a clear idea when or how much will become available.

When businesses do receive an allocation, they may be required to use it quickly (i.e. within a 14-day window), and they may not receive the total amount requested. These Forex access challenges affect a business’s ability to respond to orders, expand operations, maintain positive business relationships (e.g. making payments on time) and remain competitive. Some businesses operate at a fraction of their production capacity due to Forex challenges. 


The following actions are recommended to alleviate Forex-related obstacles to the success and growth of businesses that offer WASH products and services in Ethiopia:

  • Review Forex operating guidelines and consider ways of making the application, queueing, and liquidation processes more accessible, accommodating and transparent.
  • Encourage policy reforms that raise the priority of Forex access for socially oriented businesses in emerging markets, such as for WASH products.
  • Advocate for WASH products to be added to the list of “essential or priority goods” so that Forex is more readily allocated to businesses importing or manufacturing WASH goods.

Planning for sustainable WASH services in Negelle Arsi and Shashamane woredas

November 18th 2020 at 09:32
By: tsegay

In order to achieve improved and sustainable WASH services, IRC WASH Ethiopia has been working on Wash Alliance International (WAI) project implementation in supporting Shashamane and Negelle Arsi woredas (districts).  The project is anticipated to enhance effective planning and monitoring, financing to the WASH sector, and develop climate resilient WASH infrastructure, where the challenge of water resources for different demands will also be addressed.

The planning process to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 in the two woredas was started a year ago by training Woreda WASH Experts from WASH sector offices such as the water, health, education, and finance offices. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a state of emergency restricting travels and gatherings, the planning process was deferred for months. Once the state of emergency was lifted, the planning process continued. Recently, there was a five-day workshop held at Hawassa to finalise the SDG planning process.

The workshop involved the WASH sector planning teams from the two woredas. Foziya Jemal is a WASH focal point at the Negelle Arsi Woreda Health Office. She said that the first training they attended a year ago enabled them to start planning for SDG 6, and after two months the planning teams from the two woredas met at Batu/Zeway town to present their progress. During their meeting at Batu/Zeway, challenges and faults they experienced during the process were discussed. A person from Dera Woreda of Amhara Region shared their experience on the process.  After they returned to their woreda, they kept working on the planning.

Incorporating experts from the finance office allowed the planning teams to understand the available resources of their respective woredas. Jemal Umar is an expert at Shashamane Woreda’s Finance and Economy Cooperation Office. He stated that Shashamane Woreda has very limited resources, therefore, to use the limited resources properly, having a long-term strategic plan is very important. ‘’As water is linked with existence, and the community in water stressed lowland kebeles of our woreda are suffering with shortage of water, we are seriously working on the SDG planning and trying to use this wonderful opportunity,’’ Jemal said.

IRC WASH Ethiopia supporting Negelle Arsi Woreda in SDG planning

IRC WASH Ethiopia has been actively supporting both Woredas in the planning process

Improving access and sustainability of WASH services in the community and institutions in the two woredas is the purpose of the planning. During the planning process, households, schools and health facilities water, sanitation and hygiene gaps were analysed. According to Tirunesh Zerihun,  the Negele Arsi Woreda Education Office Planning Expert, the SDG planning process capacitated them in identifying their water, sanitation, and hygiene  facilities gaps in schools. Currently, they have clear data which portrays the overall WASH status of schools in their woreda and are happy to share the data with anyone coming to their support.

The SDG planning process is in its completion stage. The two woredas identified gaps and planned for new WASH infrastructures, counted their broken WASH infrastructure, and planned for rehabilitation, estimated costs, and identified potential sources of finance, and settled their target for 2030. The strategic plan will be validated with the participation of woreda WASH stakeholders and launched to serve as a road map for WASH intervention in the woredas.

Another year, another World Toilet Day

November 18th 2020 at 09:14

Celebrating World Toilet Day again - a toilet in Bangladesh.

Climate won the vote for the theme of this year's World Toilet Day.


Photo caption: Toilet, Bangladesh. Credit: Ingeborg Krukkert/ IRC & BRAC

This year, World Toilet Day is about climate change, as was World Water Day although in the end that was rather overshadowed by the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 theme puts sustainable sanitation in the spotlight alongside climate change. How might these two different global concerns, sanitation and climate change, be linked? We’ll come to that in a moment.

While for some of us stranded at home it might seem like life is only an endless series of webinars and online meetings these days, you could also live your life as a series of World Whatever Days. This week, the UN list alone has the International Day for Tolerance (Monday 16 November), World Toilet Day and World Philosophy Day (both on Thursday and with some obvious potential for linkage), Africa Industrialization Day and World Children's Day (both on Friday) and World Television Day (Saturday). A little bit more unofficially, Monday was also World Horse Appreciation Day. The same day, in the United States of America, was National Button Day as well National Fast Food Day. The list of topics fighting for awareness is endless.

UN-Water proposes the themes for the world water and toilet days, a small but very visible task in its effort to coordinate across the many UN agencies and partners working in water and sanitation, and spur us  all on to achieve  Sustainable Development Goal 6. Recently the theme has been the same for the water and toilet days. Also the same theme is used by the Stockholm World Water Week and many other events on the calendar. Next year for example, World Water Day is focused on valuing water and in 2022, on groundwater.

So when the committee came together to decide the topic for 2020 there was an important discussion. Everyone was happy that water and climate made a deserving theme for World Water Day. But what about World Toilet Day? Is there enough of a link between toilets and climate change to make it a theme of a world celebration day? There was a lot of head scratching about who might deliver content for a day on toilets and climate. The long discussion was ended with a vote on whether a different more toilety theme might be chosen instead (breaking with the World Water Day and climate theme). But climate won in that vote and here we are.

Decide for yourself but there is a lot of compelling content out there making exactly those links. Our own staff and inspired individuals and teams around the world have spent the last year and more thinking about what connects sanitation and climate change and now you can read all about it.

Our teams working in places like Odisha, India, Bhola, Bangladesh and Honduras have seen the tremendous damage by storms and floods to sanitation infrastructure, and we are warned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to brace ourselves for more extreme events as a result of a faster, more dynamic hydrological cycle in a warmer world. The wastes we produce are energy and nutrient-rich, and clever designs and policies can enhance their benefits for the environment, or sanitation systems can be hugely energy consuming and contribute significantly to carbon emissions. There are plenty of stories on these and more at www.worldtoiletday.info/

So yes there are plenty of links between toilets and climate change, and a brave decision has pushed us all just a little bit forward.

For our part, we believe we must all work to make World Toilet Day a genuine celebration of success, rather than what it is – an annual reminder of one of the world's biggest human rights failures for billions of people. IRC will continue to remind the world that the only way to break the cycle of failure is to build systems that deliver sanitation and water services that last. Look out for our mini campaign saying just this (see the video below)!

Water For People market system development update

November 17th 2020 at 11:17

Despite reduced funding for market systems development (MSD) in sanitation, Water For People (WFP) has been able to grow and expand its approach.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) awarded a grant to Water For People (WFP) from 2010 to June 2015 to develop a market systems development (MSD) approach for sanitation. This update looks at how the impact from that work has continued to grow and expand, despite now having less money, and quantifies that wider impact in terms of sanitation MSD growth.

As of 2020, WFP supports 59 active MSD sanitation initiatives across nine country programmes. This update highlights six MSD programmes, which have overcome three barriers : (1)  initiating businesses or income streams that can continue without WFP support; (2) the dependency on a small number of providers; and (3) the loss of control over the growth and development process.

The six highlighted programmes are: 

  1. Pit emptying and faecal sludge fuel briquette production in Kampala, Uganda
  2. Pit emptying in Blantyre, Malawi
  3. Latrine building in Bihar, India
  4. Latrine building in rural Rwanda
  5. Design innovation for affordable toilets: SaTo Pans (Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, and Peru)
  6. Sanitation, microfinance, and loans in Latin America (Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru and Guatemala) to improve household sanitation

WFP sees increasing opportunities for its established MSD models to scale to additional geographic areas, while it has new models in the pipeline that are being tested and readied to scale up.

Two new strategies for the WASH sector in Bangladesh

November 16th 2020 at 17:46

 Sanitation facility of a hardcore poor family, Ramgati Bangladesh

A pro-poor strategy has been approved and a new national strategy is on its way.


Photo caption: Sanitation facility of a hardcore poor family, Ramgati Bangladesh. Credit: Digbijoy Dey/IRC

Bangladesh is struggling to manage the sanitation challenge of its huge population. The approximate population density of the country is 1265 per Km2 which makes it very difficult to find suitable sanitation solutions. During the era of the Millennium Development Goal, the country  made great strides in reducing open defecation to close to zero. But the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) came up with new indicators and achieving safely managed sanitation has become a great challenge. However, the country has recently updated two of its relevant strategies to tackle this challenge. One is the National Strategy for Water Supply and Sanitation and the other is the Pro-Poor Strategy for Water and Sanitation Sector in Bangladesh (listed below under Resources). Of the two, the second one has completed all formalities and has been commissioned whereas the first one has been revised but is awaiting formal commissioning from the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Co-operatives.

Pro-Poor Strategy for Water and Sanitation Sector

The two strategies are believed to play a good role for the country in achieving SDG 6, especially target 6.2. The pro-poor strategy solves the puzzle of selecting ideal candidates for the water and/or sanitation subsidy. Despite an increase of finance for the WASH sector, a huge population (roughly 6 million people) is hardcore poor and struggles to get safe sanitation. There was ambiguity in the mechanism of selection and subsidisation for WASH purposes. Development partners advocated to the government from the beginning of the SDG era for such a strategy. There was assistance from partners in revising the strategy as well.

Who are the hardcore poor?

In the revised strategy, hardcore poor will be selected as per the guideline of “Humanitarian Assistance Programme Implementation Guideline 2012-2013” (it has 12 indicators; key indicators are being landless or depend only on daily wages). People of this wealth category with no toilet or no private water source will be considered as a “target group” for subsidy. At rural level, local government institutes such as Union or Upazila Parishad’s WASH related standing committees will play a role in identifying these people. In urban areas, the Municipality or City Corporation will play an equivalent role.


Another visible change in the revised strategy is the share of subsidy. Earlier there was a provision of 10% cost sharing from the hardcore poor households for such subsidy arrangements (as per National Cost Sharing Strategy for Water and Sanitation 2012 - listed below under Resources). The revised strategy has kept the provision of 100% subsidy for hardcore poor people. As most of these people are estimated to be landless, the subsidy has community options. In urban areas, subsidy provision for faecal sludge management will also be available. The operation and maintenance (O&M) part of the infrastructure built with the help of these subsidies is mainly left to the community. A maximum O&M charge for the hardcore poor people has been set at 25 taka per month (roughly 0.30 euro). This may seem very negligible but there are observations which indicate that this negligible fee may prevent proper O&M. Another criticism of the strategy is the selection mechanism of the hardcore poor candidates. The local government institutes may not yet be capable of carrying out the task and a substantial capacity building and monitoring mechanism will be required.

National Strategy for Water Supply and Sanitation

The National Strategy for Water Supply and Sanitation is not officially signed but the working committee has finalised the draft. The official procedure to commission the strategy is ongoing. This will be the country’s key strategy to achieve the SDG 6 targets, especially 6.2. It has contextualised the definition of safely managed sanitation which remained a crucial issue of debate since many households in Bangladesh are used to sharing their toilet. In this context the strategy prefers to not limit it to one household and to prioritise the hygienic maintenance of it. It sets different milestones for different targets and also recommends institutional reforms to achieve the targets. More importantly it considers and integrates the issue of solid waste management and water resources management in WASH which was not so salient in the previous strategy. 

Pro-poor strategy for water and sanitation sector in Bangladesh

November 16th 2020 at 17:44

Hardcore poor households need to get 100% subsidies but they must also share 100% of operation and maintenance costs of water and sanitation facilities. 

The pro-poor strategy is based on four pillars: (1) an operational definition of hardcore poor households; (2) a definition of a basic minimum service level; (3 identification and organisation of the poor hou households; and (4) the development of the mechanism for administering subsidies. Other measures including micro-credit support and employment generation, and capacity building of local government institutions (LGIs) are also mentioned, as are monitoring and evaluation by LGIs. The strategy concludes that hardcore poor households need to get 100% subsidies but they must also share 100% of operation and maintenance costs of water and sanitation facilities.

Glass ceilings and glass floors for women in WASH business

November 16th 2020 at 11:10
By: mebrate

What challenges are women in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) businesses facing in Ethiopia?

“It is not only “glass ceilings” limiting women’s career progress but also “glass floors” and “glass walls” blocking gender equality in the workplace”  Barbara Crossette

In Ethiopia, women-led businesses make up less than 10 percent of the construction sector, which is the primary source of WASH products and services in the country. This makes the sector one of the most challenging for the promotion of women as business leaders.

Why is it so difficult for women to succeed in business in the WASH sector? We’ve summarised five key challenges for women in construction-related businesses (e.g. retailers, masons, small- and medium-sized construction companies, slab manufacturers) based on a comparative study involving 15 female and 15 male business people in five regions of Ethiopia conducted by USAID Transform WASH.

Women installing SaTo pan in Ethiopia (photo by Ayatam Simeneh from PSI Ethiopia)

Women installing SaTo pan in Ethiopia (photo by Ayatam Simeneh from PSI Ethiopia)

Less capital: Female entrepreneurs reported access to two and a half times less capital on average than their male counterparts (approximately 250,000 ETB vs 100,000 ETB).

Poor networking opportunities: Unlike their male counterparts, who experience no problems travelling wherever they wish to network with anyone they meet, for female entrepreneurs networking comes with uncomfortable realities. Culturally, there is a gross misunderstanding and disapproval of women’s efforts to network as it often equates with infidelity or immorality. Women’s freedom of mobility in neighbourhoods outside of their own and in remote rural areas is curtailed by fear of social disapproval and even sexual assault, which are not uncommon occurrences. In addition, women’s traditional household responsibilities deprive them of men’s ample opportunities to travel and meet business associates. Not being able to network often translates into poor access to information, technology or products, making women entrepreneurs less likely to be early adopters of innovations and new product ideas.

Less support and attention from business ‘enablers’:  The government has an important role to play in facilitating business growth in the WASH sector.   Unfortunately, civil servants in local positions of power are not always gender sensitive or committed to supporting women in business. This primarily arises from their gender blindness, “a lack of awareness about how men and women are differently affected by a situation due to their different roles, needs, status and priorities in their societies.” For instance, our research found that many WASH focal persons in woreda health offices genuinely believe that female entrepreneurs are ineffective at any work involving physical labour and travel.  This is happening in several regions despite evidence that women can perform well in such businesses provided that more attention is given to their particular needs.

Negative community stereotypes: Women who are engaged in construction-related businesses are often subjected to derogatory and discouraging words from fellow community members, especially those working in manufacturing and promotion. Some comments observed during the research included, “Why doesn’t she simply get married and have kids instead of messing with men’s jobs!”  “Why does she run this filthy business with toilets while she has other ways of making a living?” “Doesn’t she have something of importance to do rather than wandering around the community talking nonsense about adopting improved sanitation?”

Difficult supervision of employees:  In a patriarchal society like Ethiopia, the legitimacy of women’s rights and power is constantly challenged. Our research confirmed the frequent challenges that women face exercising authority or earning respect for their expertise. A female manager of an enterprise in Woliso woreda expressed her frustration this way: “When my employees don’t perform well or don’t show up on time at the workplace, and I reduce their compensation accordingly, they question my right [to manage them], and they try to undermine me simply because of my gender, totally ignoring their own issues. They deflect their own personal problems, blaming it on women’s lack of management skills.”  A woman working as a retailer in Ebinat town reported that the daily laborers with whom she engages to load and unload cement express a lack of respect for her and often insult her when she tries to guide them on where to store the cement. “They say, ‘shut up, this is our task,’ while doing everything they are told by male employees.” 


Women entrepreneurs who offer WASH products and services operate their businesses in the face of multiple cultural challenges, derogatory expressions, and stereotypical attitudes.   Their limited freedom of mobility, ability to socialise and network, and manage their employees comprise some of these challenges.  To address these issues, we recommend the following actions to reverse the impact of negative gender norms:

  • Onsite coaching for female entrepreneur: To address challenges related to limited mobility, onsite coaching can be aimed at finding creative ways of developing networking skills that consider cultural barriers, strengthening approaches to employee management, and promoting product diversification aligned with women’s sales and promotional strengths.
  • Sensitisation of government staff: On-going training and closer collaboration with government officials is needed to fight gender blindness in the WASH sector and to enhance their awareness of strategies for addressing women’s unique challenges in becoming successful in business.   
  • Provide incentives for women: Female entrepreneurs should be rewarded and incentivised not just based on their business performance but simply for the achievement of operating in the face of multiple derogatory experiences and within a restricted business environment.  Smart subsidies like tax relief, discounted loan access, and provision of working spaces should be considered by the local officials and stakeholders to encourage women to become business leaders and expand their work in the WASH sector.
  • Address gender norms: Strong partnerships and linkages are needed among government and organisations working to empower women in business to spark and consolidate change in communities toward reversing negative gender norms.  
About Transform WASH

USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation. Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.

USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV, Plan International, and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.

 USAID Transform WASH partner logos

10 years of progress washed away

November 11th 2020 at 13:03
By: Smits

Honduras HUrricane Eta

In the wake of Hurricane Eta, IRC and Water For People support government appeal and call for immediate action to restore a decade's worth of water and sanitation development in Honduras.

Article jointly written by Stef Smits, Country Coordinator, IRC Honduras and Túpac Mejía Country Director, Water For People Honduras.

Over the last few days, while the eyes of the world were focused on the elections in the USA, further south, a disaster had happened. Hurricane Eta hit Central America. It left a trail of destruction, especially in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It reminded us of hurricane Mitch which hit these countries back in 1998. Fortunately, Eta was less deadly. So far, the victims number in the hundreds, while Mitch took the lives of 11,000 people. The material damage, however, is just as big. In Honduras alone, the estimated damage is US$ 5 billion.

As organisations that have been working on water supply and sanitation in the region, we saw several years of progress washed away. Though a full inventory of the damages is underway, the first reports from the three municipalities with whom we have worked most closely, show a severe impact. The situation is likely to be similar in many other municipalities. In 2012, the municipality of Chinda celebrated being the first municipality in Honduras to achieve universal access to water supply. Now the town’s drinking water supply is heavily damaged as part of the town was flooded. San Antonio de Cortés saw heavy damages to 33 of the 45 village water supplies. Communication with the municipality officials of El Negrito has not been fully established. So far 13 communities, including the main town, have reported damages. We expect this number to go up as we receive reports from the more remote communities with whom we have worked over the years to provide services. Across the three municipalities, this means a drop in the level of access to water supplies from 97% prior to Eta to 58%, affecting 40,000 out of the 75,000 people living in these three municipalities.

Aerial view of destruction

These are heart-breaking figures. Behind each of these statistics are villagers who worked hard to construct these systems; community leaders and politicians who mobilised the necessary resources; and users who rejoiced in getting water and sanitation services for the first time.

Efforts are being undertaken by the Government of Honduras, municipalities and NGOs to address the situation by providing filters and undertaking quick repairs. Honduras is especially vulnerable to natural disasters and hence has a reasonably well-developed emergency response system. We are confident that – in spite of everything – the immediate needs can be addressed.

More worrisome are the needed repairs, rehabilitation and reconstruction. The amount of money and, above all, time these communities, towns and municipalities had put into getting water and sanitation to everyone, are enormous. Ten years of hard work have been undone. And we cannot bring back that time.

But we also cannot just let 10 years of progress get undone. We need to get behind the communities and municipalities affected by Eta, and make sure that they get their water supplies back and functioning as they were before Eta hit. The Government of Honduras has made an appeal to the international community for support in its recovery and reconstruction efforts.

We fully support this appeal and will do what is in our power to help out. Through the Para Todos, Por Siempre partnership, we are working closely with the Government to inventory the damages to water supply and sanitation systems. Also, we are supporting the coordination and exchange of information in doing these inventories and the planning of repair works.

We call upon our partners, funders and friends to respond to the appeal made by the Government of Honduras and do whatever is in your power to make sure that 10 years of progress dis not washed away for good but is quickly re-instated.

In response to this urgent need, all donations received in November will go towards reconstruction efforts in Honduras.

Act now

Recommendations for greywater management in rural India

November 6th 2020 at 14:46

Woman cleaning toilet, Odisha, India

Role of technology and local government in waste water management. Expert views from a thematic discussion and webinar.

Photo caption: Woman washing clothes in Odisha, India. Credit: IRC

India is investing INR 1,409 billion (US$ 19 billion) in the 2nd phase of its national rural sanitation programme, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). While the goal in the first phase was eliminating open defecation by constructing toilets, the goals in the second phase are much more ambitious, with a major focus on solid and liquid waste management (SLWM).

In August 2020, the India Chapter of SuSanA hosted a thematic discussion and webinar on Liquid Waste Management in SBM 2. IRC Associate Nitya Jacob has compiled a synthesis document based on the discussions and contributions of experts from government, NGOs and academia. Main topics of discussion were cost-effective, technically simple options for liquid waste management (LWM), the technical skills needed to make and maintain these structures and local government model LWM plans for both small and larger villages.

The synthesis document ends with a series of recommendations on technical solutions and the role of local government.

Speakers at the webinar included:

The thematic discussion and webinar are part of the Thematic Discussion Series on Innovations in WASH organised and hosted by the India Chapter of SuSanA in collaboration the India Sanitation Coalition, IRC and WaterAid India.

View the video recording of the webinar below. The “Liquid waste management in SBM II : synthesis document” is available under Resources.

Liquid waste management in SBM II : synthesis document

November 6th 2020 at 11:27

This thematic discussion examines the readiness of India's local government institutions to effectively plan and implement grey water management as part of the ambitious 2nd phase of the national Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM).

This synthesis examines the readiness of India's local government institutions to effectively plan and implement grey water management as part of the ambitious 2nd phase of the national Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). A major focus area in SBM II is solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) in rural areas. The synthesis examines cost-effective, technically simple liquid waste management (LWM) options for different population densities, the technical skills needed to make and maintain these structures and model LWM plans for villages that have populations of less and more than 5,000. It draws from a thematic discussion and webinar on LWM hosted by the India Chapter of SuSanA in August 2020.


Investing in healthcare facilities saves lives–video from Uganda

November 4th 2020 at 10:51

This video makes an appeal for more funding for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in healthcare facilities in Uganda.

People go to healthcare facilities to be treated for illnesses, but they can also fall ill there because of healthcare associated infections. Both patients and health workers are at risk when exposed to unhygienic surroundings, poor sanitation, improper disposal of medical equipment and contaminated water. In Kabarole District in Uganda, healthcare facilities are facing all these challenges. A 2019 assessment report of 40 healthcare facilities brings up the sad figures:

  • 65% met the required water standards
  • 38% met the required sanitation standards
  • 5% met the hand hygiene standards
  • 0% met the environmental cleaning standards

IRC has together with the help of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation started with interventions to improve the situation in 30 government healthcare facilities. They are focusing on sanitation, hand hygiene and access to safe drinking water. Renovation of latrines is being done by the Hand Pump Mechanics Association so that they meet the WHO standards. To improve hygiene standards IRC, Centers for Disease Control and Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) have distributed hand sanitisers to all healthcare facilities in Kabarole. This made them well prepared for COVID-19. However, still a lot remains to be done.

IRC Uganda Country Director Jane Nabunnya Mulumba appeals to the Ministry of Health to recruit and to retain more staffing for healthcare facilities. And to budget for it! She is also appealing to both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Water and the Environment to increase access to water for all patients.

Catherine Kemigabo, District Health Educator, Kabarole, is calling upon partners such as IRC, IDI and others to join hands and upgrade facilities and make them user friendly.

Finally, Martin Watsisi, IRC WASH Expert in Kabarole, says special attention needs to be given to WASH in healthcare facilities. It is not business as usual.

Good sanitation practices in Bongo District, Ghana

October 29th 2020 at 10:37

Video on the improvements taking place around sanitation and hygiene in Bongo District, Ghana.

Open defecation was still rife in 2015 in Bongo District. Eight out of ten people were practising open defecation. The District Assembly together with WaterAid Ghana and partners took action to change this. By 2020 the district was showing strong progress thanks to sensitisation and triggering. 

Asoloko was one of the communities that started adopting new practices. The schools, health centres and public spaces were also involved in the process. Apart from toilet use, handwashing was a main component of the sensitisation. The Asoloko primary school was doing so well that they were awarded a prize and were given soap for the whole school. Foe Community Health and Planning Services now has very clean and smart toilets for their staff and patients. Volunteers clean the toilets regularly and the community is made aware of the importance of cleanliness. 

In the heart of Bongo Soe is a market site which is being provided with a suite of toilets. Users will have to pay a small fee to use the toilet which one of the stallholders will collect. She will also make sure the toilets are kept clean. Getting toilets in all the markets is a priority for the district. For Bongo District Assembly and partners, it is crucial to sustain the gains that they have made.

The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) has collected together with IRC Ghana a series of best practice stories on meeting the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) challenges for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The stories were collected in three districts namely, Asutifi North, Bongo and Wassa East.

For more information see the overview page.

What it takes to build a sanitation market: USAID Transform WASH and the plastic toilet slab in Ethiopia

October 19th 2020 at 14:15

Introducing the plastic toilet slab to the Ethiopian market takes time, patience and tenacity as the USAID Transform WASH project experiences.

 Silafrica's introduction of AIM plastic latrine slab manufacturing in Ethiopia

The ultimate goal of building WASH markets is to achieve ever expanding, self-sustaining household access to and demand for new products and services. Most customers should be able to afford a range of products that suit their particular needs in improving their facilities and preventing the spread of disease. Market facilitation is what USAID Transform WASH is all about, but it takes time, patience, and tenacity. Nothing exemplifies this more than our nearly three-year experience introducing the plastic toilet slab to the Ethiopian market. It started out with typical testing and readying the market for the product, but in the end, it was about building the confidence of the manufacturer to jump over hurdles thrown in their path by Ethiopia's business climate.

Advantages of the plastic latrine slab

Plastic latrine slabs serve several key purposes for household customers. They are lightweight, thus easy and relatively inexpensive to transport even to distant rural areas. They are durable, attractive, simple to install in new or retrofitted latrines, and easy to keep clean. Fitted with an attached lid and swivel hinge, they can be kept covered when not in use, thus the toilet stays fresh, and disease-spreading flies and other insects are kept out. Finally, they don't require water to flush, which is an advantage in water-stressed areas.

So what held the product back for so long?

It's a typical market development conundrum. First, you need the product itself, one that no one has heard of let alone planned to buy. And second, you need a manufacturer and other market players willing to take risks and invest in this product with no demand. This is the case in the easiest of markets, let alone a challenging one like Ethiopia (more on that later).

Ideally, the product would be manufactured locally to reduce costs and minimize the price to consumers such that demand will grow quickly and produce a healthy return for all businesses in the supply chain (the definition of a successful business model). But, as I mentioned, establishment of local manufacturing by any interested business requires significant investment and appetite for risk. One way to prove the viability of the product would be to import a number of units and test the market. However, high customs duties, other taxes and fees, and transportation costs dramatically increase the retail price, which could kill the product before it's born. Considering these risks, an importer has to be interested in introducing the product but also have access to enough foreign currency to purchase and import a shipment – on top of everything, a very difficult, if not impossible, ask.

In the case of the plastic latrine slab, the product and manufacturer do exist. The Silafrica corporation, an East African business, has been manufacturing slabs in neighboring Kenya since 2016. The original product design process was led and funded by the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) in collaboration with the US-based user-centered design firm, Ideo, with refinements completed by Silafrica itself, one of two manufacturers selected to produce the slabs (the second dropped out before getting started). Silafrica also has operations in Ethiopia and, with the encouragement of Transform WASH, was willing to consider manufacturing the product here. But Silafrica needed a few things first, which it didn't have the resources to acquire on its own:

1. Sales projections to understand market potential and viability;
2. An initial import of 1,500 units to test the market;
3. Support for establishing a supply chain and business and consumer demand.

What investments would Silafrica itself have to make if they were to produce slabs in Ethiopia?

Plastics manufacturing requires molds to be manufactured first, and the capacity to produce these molds does not yet exist in the country, so they would have to be procured from abroad and imported. Molds for these kinds of products typically cost somewhere in the range of US $25,000-50,000. On the positive side, Ethiopia has established favorable tax arrangements for import of materials for local manufacturing (or so we thought), but Silafrica would incur shipping costs and would need to secure enough scarce foreign currency to buy the molds. Unfortunately, the government does not extend preferential treatment to this category of foreign currency request.

To make things somewhat easier, Silafrica made an internal decision, which took some time to reach, to import existing molds from their plant in Kenya. Of course, this was subject to obtaining enough foreign currency for an intra-company purchase – in addition to the support that they had requested from Transform WASH. First, as mentioned above, they wanted our help to assess the market. Within a year and a half of the launch of T/WASH, we had established operations throughout the largest regions of the country. Our business development teams in the field had established partnerships with businesses large and small, from regional distributors to retailers, local construction companies to sole proprietors, such as masons, all of whom committed to attaining the skills and materials required to offer new, innovative sanitation products and installation services.

We had already done market assessments in all of these areas and were building demand for new sanitation products through marketing support for our business partners and market-focused WASH communication by government health extension workers. This broad platform enabled us to put together for Silafrica a projection of sales volumes across our areas of operation. Also, in response to their third request, we could offer them connections to supply chains and the local business partnerships that we had established for other products and services that T/WASH had been introducing to the market.

Silafrica's second request proved to be the most difficult. We ruled out commercial importation of the first 1,500 units due to the import challenges described earlier, which would have involved insurmountable business risk and establishment of a consumer price far out of reach of most target households. With the support of USAID and the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, T/WASH was able to import the products duty free to allow us to test the market free of the usual market pressure to earn some profit. Thus, the retail price could come in somewhat close to the level estimated through local manufacturing.

Checking the plastic slabs

Barely enough currency to keep going

The T/WASH team sold the plastic slabs to regional distributors, who in turn sold them to hardware retailers in select districts of the country. The initial consumer price was set at 700 Ethiopian birr (ETB, or approximately US $23) to cover all costs, including transportation. Frustratingly, at this first price, the product barely moved, even with demand-creation activities. As Silafrica's price estimate for locally manufactured product was between 450-500 ETB, we lowered the price to 550 ETB ($18), and they sold out in two months.

Sufficiently satisfied with test market performance, Silafrica was ready to commit to importing the molds and beginning production of plastic slabs in Ethiopia. They hoped to produce up to 10,000 units per month to start. But the strict rationing of foreign currency in the country stymied their commitment for months. Silafrica was barely able to acquire enough currency to keep their core business afloat, let alone invest in importing the molds for a risky venture.

As time went by, Silafrica asked for more assurances that their investment would be worth it. They requested not only updated projections (by this point, T/WASH had scaled up to all eight regions of the country), but they wanted actual distributor orders, as well. Fortunately, demand had been established through the successful test market, so T/WASH was able to collect orders to Silafrica's satisfaction, enough to justify the initial production plan. Finally, in June 2020, the slab molds arrived from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, and Silafrica began readying their newly built production facility to manufacture the first batch of 5,000-10,000 units.

But there was a final glitch. Silafrica had applied to the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) for duty-free import of the molds. But the application was rejected because of a regulation that requires a company to have 50 permanent Ethiopian nationals on its staff to qualify; Silafrica has just over 40. Upon import, a duty of about $46,000 was assessed on the molds. Silafrica appealed the decision, but in the end the appeal was rejected, and they were forced to pay. Sadly, the loser will be customers, who will end up paying the duty as Silafrica recovers the expense through a higher product price. In the end, while the government's objective of increasing employment is a worthy one, promoting overall local business growth is more likely to generate jobs than requiring a minimum number of employees when they're not needed.

In a last bit of good news, Silafrica informed us that they've decided to use what they call "regrind" plastic to produce the slabs, which involves repurposing waste from other product manufacturing processes. This means that no additional foreign currency will be needed as all inputs will be locally produced, and in addition to repurposing of manufacturing waste, any broken product can be recovered from the market and recycled, as well. Yet the product features nearly the same strength and appearance as that produced with "virgin" plastic.

Production has begun, and we'll know soon how the market performs. But if the enthusiasm of our business development team, district health offices, and business partners is any indication, the product is poised for an outstanding commercial launch in Ethiopia. Stay tuned!


About Transform WASH

USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation.
Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.

USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV, Plan International, and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.




Women as business leaders

October 20th 2020 at 06:36
By: tsegay

This learning note is focused on the gender dynamics in WASH business and it informs action points to enhance women's roles in the sector. 

This learning note is intended to create a better understanding on the gender dynamics in business through documentation of key learnings from the USAID Transform WASH Activity which will in turn inform action points to enhance women's roles in the sector. The study employed comparative approaches to engaging both male and female entrepreneurs to explore the unique challenges encountered by women involved in businesses that offer WASH products and services

USAID Transform WASH – Learning notes overview

October 19th 2020 at 11:27

This is an overview of learning notes produced for the USAID Transform WASH project.

Making a toilet slab in Ethiopia

USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation.

Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.

USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV, Plan International, and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.

A number of publications have been written to document the lessons learnt.

Learning notes by theme

Strengthening supply chain:

Supply chain is about designing and introducing desirable and affordable sanitation products and services. The following learning notes have been published on this topic:

Stimulating demand:

If there is no demand, there is no selling, no matter how many sanitation products and services are available. The following document goes into this:

Improving the enabling environment:

There needs to be a focus on improving the regulatory and institutional framework of the business climate.


An assessment of sanitation financing options for enterprises and households

October 16th 2020 at 07:13

This learning note summarizes the findings of a study undertaken of the financing approaches used under the USAID Transform WASH activity, which was conducted to better understand their performance and how they compared to other viable approaches.

The impact of Watershed on decentralised decision making with inclusion of women: Findings from India

October 14th 2020 at 10:29

Water and sanitation interventions should put special focus on strengthening systems of community participation as well as enabling the participation of all citizens.

The Watershed programme has provided the much-required entry point for the CSOs at large, and for women, specifically, into the basics of the planning for and management of water and sanitation. It has facilitated women's participation in community proceedings as well as created several opportunities for them to voice their needs and concerns in front of elected representatives and officials of line departments. Being able to engage has made women interested and active and has enabled them to articulate and put forth their demands. Such interventions are essential to ensure vibrant, representative, and accountable local governments.