Realising government ambitions for more inclusive WASH services in Asia
Three years after the SDGs were introduced, the Governments of Bhutan, Lao PDR, and Nepal entered a new water and sanitation partnership (2018-2022) with the Government of Australia's Water for Women Fund, SNV, UTS-ISF, and CBM Australia. The goal was to progress the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) conditions of people to help realise the ambitions of the SDGs and ensure that no-one is left behind.
Of the additional 215,000 people now living in open-defection-free districts in Bhutan, 181,000 enjoy access to safely managed sanitation; 16,000 of whom live with a disability.
More than 139,000 people across 140 villages in Lao PDR’s Savannakhet Province now live in open-defecation-free, healthier, and cleaner environments.
In Nepal, 75,600 residents in Dailekh and Sarlahi districts enjoy access to safely managed water supply services, which are supported by a strong network of government and non-government water stewards.
Keys to success
One of the keys to the partnership's success was contributing to governance improvements that placed people, gender equality, and inclusion at the heart of transforming systems.
Rinchen Wangdi, Former Chief of the Public Health Engineering Division in Bhutan’s Ministry of Health said that having representatives from Disabled People’s Organisations seated at the decision-making table has ‘helped the sector develop more accessible and inclusive systems and has strengthened local government capacity to dialogue with people with disabilities in a more sensitive manner.’
For Ugyen Pem, Chief District Education Officer in Bhutan, her focus on connecting schools and government buildings to toilets now involves the promotion of inclusive designs and appropriate facilities for menstrual health and hygiene management.
‘Take the opportunity, wherever possible, to go the extra mile, and don’t just wait for directions,’ she advised. Beyond advocating for inclusive systems, Ugyen has made the budget provisions necessary to secure these.
The role of local authorities
The responsibility for a well-functioning WASH governance system doesn’t only rest on national governments. Local authorities have a critical role to play in actioning national development policies.
In 2015, Nepal transitioned to federalism, introducing significant changes to its system of governance. This meant that local officials had to take on new roles and skills.
To help officials become effective leaders and support national priorities, we partnered with eight municipalities to develop a programme of skills building and training in WASH, GESI, leadership, and disability inclusion. We helped revive groups like the WASH Coordination Committees and promoted diversity in membership at all levels. This process of leadership renewal has helped to strengthen the capacity for leadership, making them better equipped to tackle the challenges of WASH and promote greater equity and inclusion.
Interestingly, the robust structure created helped boost the combined annual WASH budget of all eight rural municipalities; from US$ 21,000 in 2019 to a massive US$ 665,000!
Engaging in broad collaborations for development – WASH, in this case – helps create a supportive environment to accelerate change.
When the Government of Lao PDR unveiled its new National Rural Water and Sanitation Strategy 2030 in 2019 – now with a stronger focus on gender equality and social inclusion – it provided opportunities for between WASH and women’s organisations.
In partnership with the Lao Women’s Union, WASH governance workshops with GESI sensitisation training for authorities were carried out across 80 villages in Savannakhet. Members of the Lao Women’s Union were critical in mobilising the increased participation of women and strengthening their voices in WASH meetings. Participants were also equipped with the tools to navigate potential household tensions arising from women’s increased participation in WASH meetings.
The above offers a glimpse into the many WASH-related successes of all three governments but as we all know the work is far from over.
Extending the partnership
The climate crisis is upon us and the scale of the challenges it poses is elevating the urgency to preserve and protect water quality from unsafe sanitation.
It is to this end that the partnership was awarded an extension phase until the end of 2024.
In Bhutan, Lao PDR, and Nepal, we’ve moved into taking more intentional steps to build the climate resilience of institutions, services, and communities, and ensure the longevity of inclusive WASH services.
WASH in climate action
Significant progress has been made through the campaign to end open defecation, but untreated wastewater combined with solid waste – specifically plastics – are threatening the health of current and future generations.
Working with governments and communities to raise awareness, increase demand and help professionalise sanitation systems is essential if we are to see lasting change and secure a climate-resilient future.