How Bangladesh is doing away with open defecation

Sumaiya Nehla Saif, Dhaka Community Manager
Dhaka, 22 February 2016

Billions of people around the globe lack proper sanitation facilities, and Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia tie for regions with the lowest coverage. Some common top-down approaches adopted in these regions are building toilets or giving people subsidies for building them, resulting in very little positive impact. The reason is that people have been provided with proper sanitation but not taught how to use it, and, more importantly, why to use it. The projects also ignore deep-rooted cultural habits.

The Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is a bottom-up approach to improving sanitation. Its underlying principle is to engage the people themselves to understand why their environment needs to be Open Defecation Free (ODF) and utilizes powerful emotional tools, such as shame and embarrassment to do so. CLTS does not invest in constructing lavatories, but rather, employs participatory methods by involving the people in analyzing their own context in terms of extent of open defecation and consequently faecal-oral contamination. CLTS requires intense facilitation, mobilization and evaluation rather than subsidies from governments or construction by outsiders. Although most effective for villages, WaterAid Bangladesh has adopted and scaled the initiative under an Advancing Sustainable Environmental Health (ASEH) project in urban areas as well. This project has been successful in many areas outside Dhaka and continues to do so with the support of Plan, WaterAid, and UNICEF.

This project includes facilitators to conduct informal sessions with the people to talk about the act of defecating in the open and discuss its impact on people and the environment, coupled with the introduction of some diseases that originate from open defecation. This is followed by walks around the community to see who has defecated in the open and how many have done it that day, which really triggers the shame and embarrassment in the people. Therefore, not only do they have knowledge about open defecation and its negative impacts but they are also ashamed of their behaviour and encouraged to act on it and defecate in proper conditions.

Even the evaluation of this initiative differs from previous attempts, which just count the number of lavatories built; CLTS, on the other hand, measures the level of ODF and number of latrines built as well as used. This project has shown great results in the 15 years of its execution – Bangladesh has seen a drop in the number of people defecating in the open from 33% to 1% and, therefore, the country is about to be announced as a "country free from open defecation" at the South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN), a SAARC ministerial meeting held in Dhaka, where the Dhaka Declaration on sanitation and hygiene, was signed by representatives of the eight member states, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Photo: waterdotorg

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