Where do you throw your dirt?

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Watara Sackor (Min. Public Works / National WASH Committee), Pinky E. White (Min. Health) and James Kokro (Min. of Health / National WASH Committee) head off to interview residents of the Fiamah area of Monrovia.

So I’m in Monrovia this week running a 4 day writing course for twenty staff from across a dozen ministries and government organisations who will be working together to produce the 2014 Sector Performance Report (SPR).  Today we did some fieldwork – the group split into three and each visited a community in or near Monrovia.

We wanted to collect some data to illustrate the opportunities and challenges of data collection, presentation and analysis. The first challenge came yesterday when I asked the group to agree on three questions, which would asked to at least 20 people at each visit site.

The first question to be agreed on was “Where do you get your drinking water?”. Pretty straight forward, except that this morning when I wrote up the questions I accidentally wrote “Where do you get your water?”.   The consequence was interesting – one team asked about “water” rather than “drinking water” and they were the only ones where some of the respondents gave multiple answers: “Sometimes we get our water from the handpump, sometimes from the well, sometimes from the pipeline” said one woman, interviewed by Watara Sackor, from the Ministry of Public Works.

The second question that was agreed on showed the importance of getting the language right: “Where do you throw your dirt?” (in Liberian English this is almost unintelligible to my British ears – Wer dyow troyo dyoit?”)  This meant: “How do you get rid of your rubbish?” but the agreed wording seemed to work and get consistent answers across all the teams.

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An Afridev handpump in Fiamah is an important water source used by most the nearby residents surveyed, despite the presence of a LWSC pipeline and some yard taps in the area. Some residents also said they collected water from a nearby well.

The question that caused the most uproar was on hand-washing; it was recognised quickly that simply asking people “Do you wash your hands with soap?” or something similar, suffers from response bias  because the majority of the people will answer ‘Yes’, even if they don’t. This is because many survey respondents often give the answers that they think are expected of them even if they are not completely truthful (Barrington and Admiraal, 2014).

To get around this, it was agreed (after a spirited debate) to ask “What do you know about handwashing?”   It was thought that this would help avoid the ‘Yes’ bias, but that because it was an open question, it would be more difficult to categorise and analyse the answers.  In fact the groups were able to categorise the responses, but they did so in three different ways and while one group focused purely on the respondent’s understanding of the importance of handwashing, the other two groups also tried to gauge whether the practices matched the understanding.

So what did we learn? Well this wasn’t a grand scientific study, but what I hope it did was allow the course participants to understand some of the complex issues around WASH data collection and analysis. The next challenge in the course is that each team will need to write a mini-SPR for the area they visited so that by the end of the course everyone will feel confident in tackling the bigger job of a national SPR.

Where did they throw their dirt? In King Gray it was generally dumped in an agreed area at the foot of a large tree, in Fiamah it was generally collected by a community based enterprise and taken to the nearby waste transfer station (though some said they burnt their rubbish or dumped it in the swamp). Finally in the community called Pipeline it was a mix of collection, deposit at an identified site, burning, burying or uncontrolled dumping.  Solid waste management might not be though of as part of WASH, but walking around you see the how it affects water, sanitation and hygiene and that’s why it is included in the Liberia SPR.

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