From peepoo bags to healthy villages – delivering safe, sustainable sanitation

To mark World Toilet Day, SWIFT Consortium Learning and Communications Support Officer Emma Feeny describes how Oxfam is aiming to bridge the gap between emergency sanitation responses and long-term, sustainable solutions.

Perhaps it’s not polite to say so, but Oxfam has been into poo for some time. You could even call us poo experts, such is the respect in which our sanitation specialists are held among their peers (step forward Andy Bastable, recently nominated Humanitarian Hero of the Year). 

Whether it is through supplying ‘peepoo bags‘ to enable urban survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to relieve themselves in areas where no latrines could be dug; or by installing ‘Urine Diversion’ toilets after the 2008 floods in Bolivia, enabling the dehydration and composting of faeces; or even piloting ‘Tiger Worm Toilets‘ in Ethiopia, in which the rapacious Ensenia fetida munches its way through
human faeces – one way or another, Oxfam has long been at the forefront of excreta disposal in all its forms. 

Some 2.5 billion people around the world still live without adequate sanitation

Until now, most of Oxfam’s work on sanitation has been in response to emergencies. Sadly, however, the lack of toilets is not just an issue for those displaced by wars, or made homeless by natural disasters; some 2.5 billion people around the world still live without adequate sanitation, and one billion defecate in the open.

The implications of this are huge. According to the World Health Organisation, societies that practice open defecation are at risk from cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid, and tend to have the highest numbers of deaths of children under five. And the risks are not just associated with disease.  Women and girls forced to squat in fields or gutters – particularly at night as they desperately seek some privacy – face serious threats to their security.

A new consortium for sustainable sanitation

Oxfam, as part of a new consortium, recently began a programme which aims to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development work, and provide long-term, safe and sustainable sanitation, along with water and hygiene promotion, in three countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya and Liberia. Unfortunately, programme activities are currently suspended in Liberia as a result of the Ebola outbreak.

SWIFT aims to reach nearly a million people by December 2015

Led by Oxfam, and with Tearfund and ODI as global members and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) as global associate, the SWIFT Consortium for Sustainable Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Fragile Contexts aims to reach nearly a million people by December 2015, working with over 15 implementing partners in the three focus countries.

Among the diverse range of activities being undertaken is scaling up the use of ‘Fresh Life’ toilets, developed by our pioneering partner Sanergy, in the slums of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. These low-cost, high-quality toilets are owned and operated by local micro-entrepreneurs, who charge users a nominal sum and collect the waste daily, transporting it to a centralised processing facility where it’s converted into valuable by-products, including organic fertiliser and renewable energy.

Delivering WASH services at scale in fragile contexts

Why fragile contexts? It’s estimated that a third of the world’s poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalised people (the ‘bottom billion’) live in countries that have the least capacity or will at state level to deliver services and public goods for their citizens. Few fragile states have met their water and sanitation-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Few fragile states have met their water and sanitation-related MDGs

The SWIFT programme is working in countries that (while they face recurrent cyclical crises and badly need to build resilience in their communities) we believe provide opportunities to add value to changes already underway. 

For example, in DRC we are working to help implement the government’s rights-based Villages et Ecoles Assainis (‘healthy villages and schools’) approach, which sees communities progress through a step-by-step process of mobilisation behind goals of improved sanitation and water supply. The stages include hygiene education, community action planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation, and culminate in the village receiving certification of its healthy status.

A results-based approach to financing

In addition to implementing WASH activities at scale in fragile contexts, the SWIFT Consortium is getting to grips with DFID’s new Payment By Results (PBR) approach to funding. Instead of a grant, financing for consortium activities is tied to outputs and outcomes that are monitored and verified by an independent organisation. If we don’t deliver what we said we would – and prove to
everyone’s satisfaction that we have done so – we don’t get paid, simple as that.

What’s more, we need to show that we really have delivered something sustainable: while we’re aiming to reach nearly a million people with WASH services by December 2015, we won’t receive full payment unless the results stand up to checks in March 2018, over two years’ later. So, for example, the new latrines we’re rolling out must still be in working order and regular use, whether they are in villages in rural DRC or the informal settlements of Nairobi.

From poo bags to composting, Oxfam has helped meet emergency sanitation needs in the past and will continue to do so. Now, through our leadership of the SWIFT Consortium, we’re working to deliver long-term, sustainable solutions that help protect women, children and men from both deadly diseases and threats to their security. We’re going to be into poo for some time to come. 

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Author: Emma Feeny
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.