Blog Action Day: Water, Sanitation and Community

Vast amounts of money have been spent on aid in Bangladesh, among other things on water and sanitation, often with disappointing results. What if the power of money isn’t what brings change, but rather the power of community?

The Community-Led Total Sanitation approach taps that power. It rules out subsidies, and uses facilitators from the broader community (i.e. Bangladeshi, not foreigners). It uses grassroots techniques to raise consciousness of the effect of poor sanitation, and motivates the community to fix its own problems – and it works. Open defecation is now seen as unacceptable, and the environment and local water supplies are cleaner and safer as a result. It’s designed by a Bengali water expert, and supported by a Western agency, WaterAid, but does not look like a conventional foreign aid project.

Community participation is not a panacea, but it’s essential to effective aid.

Community is also how Appropedia works to create a knowledge trust for a just and sustainable world. But I’m being dragged away from the computer, so more on that another day.

Related wiki articles:

Part of Blog Action Day.

1 thought on “Blog Action Day: Water, Sanitation and Community”

  1. Another aspect of community and water – when I joined an informal group assisting a refugee community in Madura in 1999, the main option on the table was drilling a bore – which would give good quality water, but at a significant distance and reliant on a large donation from overseas. Having such a water source as backup is valuable, but it’s not a serious option for many poor communities, and there were other water sources close by. Rainwater, which they were already collecting, could be used for cooking and drinking. A dirty creek, carrying the waste of communities upstream, was used for bathing, but caused skin problems in the dry season, when the water quality worsened.

    I sat down with some of the men in the community, trying to include women’s issues, but not feeling I could demand their participation. (These days I’d just ask – a direct and respectful question can go a long way.) We talked about their water problems, then I described the kind of filter I might build in a similar situation, to provide clean bathing water. This led to an intense conversation between them in Madurese (which I don’t speak – we’d been speaking in Indonesian).

    They then enthusiastically sketched out their design, also made from bricks, gravel, sand and charcoal, but with a slightly different layout and adding a coarse fiber obtained from the “aren” sugar palm, and which they informed me was traditionally used for filtering water. They thought it would work to lift water by hand

    It was arranged that they would build it themselves, but the project organizers would arrange the bricks, sand and gravel, about $50 worth.

    That’s a tiny fraction compared to a bore – lower water quality and quantity, but far more convenient, and within financial reach of a small community that wants to copy the idea. There’s a place for both, but small scale “appropriate” solutions in the hands of the local community deserve more attention, IMO.

    A couple of sobering lessons followed. On our return, we learnt that the filter had been built and was well received, but children from a neighboring community had vandalized the filter. The other lesson came in trying to get updates of the project. The initiators of the project, though well-intentioned, didn’t manage to follow through. My emails asking for updates went unanswered. I just hope things improved a lot for the refugees.

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