Do global partnerships work?

Five years on from the launch of ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ – which is a global partnership to increase the political and financial priority on water, sanitation and hygiene –  and I’ve just been with 100+ other participants from around the world to take a bit of a stock check on progress.

With World Toilet Day today, it acts as a global reminder of the need to focus on the critical but highly neglected issue of water and sanitation and it’s both timely and important to consider whether Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is the right mechanism to help deliver what its name declares.

Tearfund helped campaign for the creation of SWA as we recognise these issues are low down the political and financial priorities of both donor and national budgets, despite the numerous commitments and platitudes of how essential water and sanitation are for any pathway out of poverty.

The achievements from the second High Level Meeting are impressive and you can find out more from my previous blog and the SWA website.

So how is the partnership doing over all? Below are a few of my reflections

1.    Political aspirations should reign over technocratic objectives – don’t lose sight of the original vision

When we assess progress on anything it’s easy to get a bit over zealous and want to change direction, bring in new objectives etc. While new approaches may be needed, we need to hold true to the original and bold vision and not shrink back to aims that can be easily measured, but lack political aspiration. Measuring the success of the long term change we wish to see can be difficult and slow going, but we must resist the temptation to move away from the vision towards short term, more easily controlled objectives.

2.    Patience

Political change, and the increased investment that needs to follow, takes time but we won’t see large scale investment and a world where everyone has the basic right to clean water and somewhere safe to go to the toilet, without it. Progress can be frustrating, but SWA is doing the right thing in not setting up a global fund and instead trying to get finance ministers in developing countries to recognise the need for increased investment in water and sanitation. Furthermore, any support to help strengthen national plans and policies (to aid confidence for increased investment), will be country-, rather than donor-, driven.

3.    A partnership is the sum of its partners

A partnership will only be as strong and active as its partners are. As civil society we identified clear actions in support of SWA that we committed to but this needs to be reflected across all the partner constituencies. Donor membership, whilst reflective of a large proportion of the main donors on water and sanitation, is still limited and there seems to be hesitancy in committing actions and resources to the partnership. But what donor engagement there is, including by the UK, is encouraging and can be cultivated.

4.    Communication, communication, communication

There is often high turnover of personnel involved – be it from developing country governments, donors, development banks or NGOs, so it’s great that SWA is beginning to increase its own investment in communication. It takes a long time to build understanding, buy-in and to become known outside of the circles of those working on water and sanitation – so investment in this area is crucial.

So, in my view, yes global partnerships do work – but they need commitment and action from its partners and at Tearfund we’ll continue to support SWA to ensure it delivers on its vision.


Why I support Global Handwashing Day

Addise Amado is Water and Sanitation Manager for one of Tearfund’s partner organizations, Kale Heywet Church, Ethiopia. He is currently completing a Master’s degree in water and environment management in the UK before returning home.

In the UK hand-washing is a perfectly normal thing to do. There’s nothing remarkable about seeing someone wash their hands. However, in many rural communities in Ethiopia, like the one I grew up in, washing your hands is not the norm. The normal thing to do, the accepted thing, is to defecate in the open because there isn’t a toilet, and not to wash your hands afterward.

So why the difference between these two countries? I believe that education is a huge part of the answer. Without knowledge, without understanding the impacts on health, habits won’t change.

Teaching someone to wash their hands sounds a simple enough task, but trying to change behaviour patterns or habits is always challenging. The need for hand-washing can be clearly demonstrated – washing your hands with soap and water reduces the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by nearly 40%. But although communities in Ethiopia know first-hand how destructive these diseases can be, they may not realise the connection with hand-washing.

People need to know the critical moments for hand-washing (e.g., after going to the toilet, before handling food, after cleaning babies’ bottoms) and understand why it is important. You need soap and water. When I was a child soap was something that we saved for clothes, it wouldn’t be ‘wasted’ on hands. People also need to dry their hands; wet hands are a perfect breeding ground for germs.

But why should anyone listen to people from outside their village, just because we claim that this is a better way to live? The approach that we use within Kale Heywet Church is to involve the community at every stage.

Community groups are created, they assess current practices and analyse what needs to change. Then they are the ones to work out solutions and implement them. Our role is to support and facilitate this process. And to provide the expertise needed, like with hygiene promotion.

But this process, village by village, takes time, and without follow-up and encouragement people can easily slip back into their old habits, even if they know they shouldn’t. For example, I conducted some research into hand-washing in one village: 60% of inhabitants said that they washed their hands with soap after going to the toilet; observations showed that only 10% of them actually did so.

For me, one of the best things about working in hygiene, sanitation and water is the way the community can get involved. Empowering a community to see the solutions to the problems they face doesn’t have to be finance intensive as they are supported to carry out the analysis, problem-solving and implementation themselves. They can take control of the situation.

Seeing the health benefits that come from improved hygiene is immensely rewarding, but so too is seeing members of a community take on leadership roles in their hygiene, sanitation and water projects.

The situation is improving across Ethiopia. Kale Keywet Church works in 23 districts across four regions of the country. However, greater advocacy and resources are needed if the simple, life-saving message of hand-washing is to reach every person. Global Handwashing Day may not mean much in the UK, but for millions of poor communities around the world it is a day that draws attention to the ongoing need for investment in this critical field.