By: Alain Tossounon
At the end of 2019, an evaluation of sanitation activities in Benin brought to light that certain communities had been returning to the practice of open defecation. That led the sanitation programme in the country, known as PAPHyR, to revise its strategy and implement a catch-up plan to reinforce behaviour change and make safe sanitation sustainable.
This new strategy was launched with its catch-up plan in early 2020. Since then, 1,272 communities have been triggered for behaviour change, 367 community consultants have been trained, and 363 local engineers have been identified as of June 2020.
According to Ms Zita Tomety, Director of Sanitation and Hygiene for PAPHyR, the results, while quite respectable, would have been even better had COVID-19 not impeded the activities of the programme. These were further slowed by local elections, which took place in May 2020, with a substantial proportion of elected officials being replaced by new leaders.
PAPHyR, the Programme d’amélioration de l’accès à l’assainissement de des pratiques d’hygiène en milieu rural (or Programme for Improved Access to Sanitation and Hygiene Practices in Rural Settings), which is supported by WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund, has been conducting interventions on the ground to end open defecation in Benin since 2016.
Last month, PAPHyR, implementing agencies, and facilitators got together in the northern city of Parakou to share the results, review the activities undertaken and identify factors that led to both successes and failures.
Representatives from PAPHyR highlighted that nearly half of the total 1,480 communities reached have been re-triggered through community-led total sanitation (CLTS) efforts. The establishment of local Sanitation and Hygiene Committees has been a key factor in building community awareness and modifying behaviours.
There remain a number of challenges that can prevent communities from becoming open defecation free (ODF). For example, sanitary facilities that are built on unsuitable terrains such as sandy or muddy soil frequently collapse and the latrines cannot easily be replaced. ODF status requires that schools also provide safe sanitary facilities, but government authorization for construction or renovation can be difficult to obtain. There is also the issue of ensuring that those with mental or physical disabilities can have access to safe sanitation.
In addition, barriers to ODF status include members of the community who oppose changes in community rules and social norms, or communities where there is not yet a groundswell of support for CLTS and a strong desire on the part of the community as a whole to achieve ODF status. The quality of the facilitators is also a very important factor, and the general consensus of the partners at the meeting was that this needs to be reinforced.
At the meeting, a number of action points to further reinforce ODF efforts were raised and agreed. 542 communities that are close to reaching ODF and that have a high probability of success will be triggered through CLTS activities, and a further 932 communities who have already been triggered will receive additional support in order to achieve ODF status. Training in schools will also be expanded and Sanitation and Hygiene Committees in every community will be reinforced.
Partners also agreed that institutional support and involvement were key to making ODF status sustainable. Going forward, efforts will be made to further engage local authorities in CLTS activities.
The prospects for an ODF future are very good, according to Mr Viwossin Degboe, PAPHyR’s director of evaluation. He adds that visits by the newly-elected local leaders and mayors are essential to reinforce the work of the CLTS facilitators.