Monday 18 February 2013

License to Play: Sustaining the Gains of WASH in Schools

by Jacques-Edouard Tiberghien and Aliki Zeri for BPD

UNC WinS Workshop. Credit: BPD Water and Sanitation

Some 30 participants attended the “License to Play” session held by BPD on the final day of UNC Water Health and Policy Conference 2012 to address the following urgent questions on WASH in Schools (WinS):

  • How can gains from WinS programmes be sustainable
  • How can the provision of WASH services in every school be expanded
  • What accountability mechanisms can be put in place at the local level until governments take full responsibility for the sustainability of existing or planned WinS services? 
  • Would a partnership approach help to address these challenges and what would a WinS partnership toolkit look like? 

Led by the hand through this playful and interactive session, we all enjoyed a trip back in time to primary school - thanks to ‘teacher’ Ms Keatman, her blackboard and chalks – working with scissors, glue and coloured pens to capture the main challenges and possible solutions to this critically important issue.

Governments are failing to sustain WinS gains

At the heart of WinS programmes lies the desire to allow every child and teacher in every school to access proper WASH services by providing clean, functional and well-maintained WASH facilities; making essential consumables like soap, toilet paper and detergents readily available; and effectively promoting good hygiene behaviours. 

Making governments responsible for the provision and sustainability of these services is an equally important but greater challenge. BPD’s recent WinS evaluation work in Morocco, Kenya, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala confirmed an already well-known fact: Government agencies are often unable to deliver even the very minimum level of WinS services. A number of possible causes stand out: 

  • The lack of a robust institutional framework prescribing specific norms and standards; 
  • The absence of monitoring mechanisms, or of the enforcement of those already in place; 
  • Lack of financial resources at the national level and critical skills and expertise needed to implement WinS policies. 

Informal partnerships spring up but struggle to plug the gap

WinS project in Guatemala.
Credit: BPD
In light of this, formal and less formal institutional arrangements develop naturally at the local level, in an attempt to guarantee a basic level of WinS services. Bringing together a variety of stakeholders from the school, community, municipality and district arenas, in practice these arrangements operate as informal partnerships

Although some remarkably manage to achieve their objectives, most do not, which leads to the all too familiar scenario of 6-month old tapstands with broken taps and filthy toilets with broken doors or missing locks and no soap or toilet paper. As a result, teachers, parents and children lose heart, often feeling a sense of guilt, shame and helplessness. 

Promising signs of change

Advocacy efforts, increasingly coordinated and effective, are helping direct the required financial resources into WinS programmes and efforts are steadily gaining momentum in many countries. However, the question remains: How long will it be before governments are fully accountable and what can be done in the meantime? Should schools be left to their own devices following WinS interventions, or should temporary solutions be worked out with local stakeholders to sustain precious momentum? 

Are local-level partnerships a solution to sustaining WinS services and giving voice to citizens?

Let’s assume that some governments will eventually ensure good provision of services in all schools, as a result of joint efforts that will influence key institutions at the central level. Depending on the context, this may take five to ten years at best, or more in places. In the meantime, what is needed is creation and maintenance of effective partnerships at the local level. Not only should these partnerships be tasked with helping sustain improvements achieved by government or NGO-led WinS programmes - they should also play an essential advocacy role, exerting continuous pressure on local governments (who will hopefully relay that pressure upwards) to fulfil their responsibilities. It is also critical to raise parents’ awareness of the critical need for WinS, empowering them and strengthening their voice to accelerate this process.

Can a ‘partnerships toolkit’ help?

UNC WinS Workshop. Credit: BPD
BPD’s work on WinS programmes has clearly illustrated the significance of partnerships in this field. The recent evaluation of the programme 'SWASH+ Mi Escuela Saludable' in Central America for instance, has highlighted the importance of strengthening WinS partnerships at the local level, notably by clearly specifying the roles and responsibilities of the different partners, as well as ensuring compliance. 

Lack of time and finance may explain why such work has not been given more emphasis to date. Waiting for governments to act to sustain programme gains does not help these partnerships. Other obstacles include wishful thinking that local stakeholders will just work it out, and defeatism. In some cases practitioners have not had easy access to practical tools, despite their awareness of the significance of partnerships for programme sustainability. 

Against this backdrop, BPD’s experience with a wide range of WASH Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships (MSPs) and the tools and frameworks it has developed to support them appear particularly relevant. These allow partners to anticipate, prevent and solve challenges that may arise - knowledge that is instrumental in improving the formation and management of WinS partnerships at the local level. However, given the specific context of WinS work and notably, the multiplicity of actors involved, a tailored partnership-approach is needed.

In the next blog post, we will discuss the steps taken during the workshop to develop a ‘WinS partnership toolkit’, which involved:

  1. Identification of WinS stakeholders at local and district levels; 
  2. Assessment of stakeholders' respective incentives to be involved in WinS work; 
  3. Listing stakeholders' respective potential functions. 

Make space in your timetable for the next lesson…

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