Pipe dream or possible: Reaching the furthest behind first in WASH sector?

By Sara Ahrari (Simavi) RWSN Theme Leader for the Leave no one behind Theme.

Simavi’s Programme Manager, Sara Ahrari, moderated a side event during the UNC Water and Health Conference on 1 November 2018. This event was convened by Simavi, Wateraid, Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN),London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and World Vision (WV). The purpose of this section was to reflect jointly on “who are left behind” from “Use of” and “Participation in decision making processes related to” WASH services, “what are the barriers for their inclusion” and “what can be done and what roles can different WASH stakeholder play to accelerate their inclusion”.

The session started with a short introduction to “Leave No One Behind” Concept in the WASH sector. Afterwards the participants were divided into groups to focus on a specific scenario related to multiple exclusion factors facing by different personas. Initially 8 personas were defined (for elaborated description of the personas, please click here) but based on the number of participants and their interests only 6 personas were discussed in the groups.

The groups were asked to work through the following process to come to recommendations (in form of a pitch) on how “Leave No One Behind” can be reached for the persona in their scenario:

  • Illustrate using mind map technique draw the barriers faced by the persona as a group
  • Inspire list anything that inspires them as individuals (people, products, programmes, services, innovations, insights, etc.).
  • Selection come up with as many ideas/ solutions/ practical recommendation to address the barriers faced by the persona, then cluster all the ideas and select one idea as a group to further work on it
  • Sketching draw a storyboard using pictures representing the idea or recommendation, who will be impacted by the idea, what would be their experience, the way idea would be rolled out. Prepare your pitch.
  • Pitch The idea to the plenary in one minute.

After the group work a Ms. Ellen Greggio presented Wateraid experience on using Washington Indicators on disability in their monitoring including the challenges and insights that application of such tool might entail.

Key results of the group exercise

Group 1-Mariette: who lives on daily wages and is a member of WASH committee.






The mind mapping exercise had led to identification of poverty, no support at household when husband is away, time constrain, lack of community support and lack of government support as main barriers faced by Mariette. The selected solutions were:

  • Share responsibilities: train more members of the committee to be able to do repair work, make sure roles are divided properly and backed up.
  • Increase awareness among community members/users: to pay their WASH costs (which are affordable) so that the repair work can be paid for; other support in forms of other incentives (i.e. help with the children) and manage expectations
  • Create a safe platform for everyone to share the experiences and challenges.

An interesting discussion which took place during the group exercise was selection of the “right” person for the committee and “dividing the roles”. While very valid points, one should be careful that defining “right” as people who have time to participate can lead to “leaving those who can’t afford to participate behind”. Also when dividing the roles, it is important to make sure that dominating community role (namely men being the decision maker and women doing the work) will not influence the decision making process. The group pitch can be seen here.

Group 2- Sharon: A young girl living with HIV/AIDS who produces & sells low cost sanitary napkin.

The participants indicated that Sharon is disempowered due to stigma and lack of access to education, has limited voice, suffers from trauma due to loss of her parents and lack of institutionalized support for the poor. The suggested solutions included:

  • Improved access to WASH services: City authorities, utilities and local government need to ensure that proper pro-poor WASH policies and services are available, provide subsidized tariffs, access to affordable sanitation and hygienic products. Advocacy organisations can influence policies to ensure that this will take place.
  • Increased learning opportunities: NGOs, faith-based organisations or vocational training institutes can provide skill and entrepreneurship training as well as scholarships.
  • Enhanced link to social services: Government of NGOs can create youth homes, facilitate peer support and mentorship (female, people with HIV/AIDS and business mentorships).

The group pitch can be seen here.

Group 3- Maria: :A visually impaired girl who is sent out to city to live with her aunt in slum area and earn income through begging on streets.

The main barrier identified for this persona was her visual impairment which in her situation causes dependency on family and strangers for support, poverty, lack of accessible WASH service and transport, unsafe and non-trustworthy environment at home and outside, which leads to mental health problems feeling as a burden and stress.

The group concluded that if Maria can be provided access to school and kept at school, many of these barriers would be overcome. This means that schools need to have inclusive education as well as access to safe sanitation and water. Schools also can facilitate “Eye vision test” and promote measures for preventable visual impairments not to occur. There should be also safe transport to and from school. Also the care-givers (aunt or her family) need to be supported to have increased income. Depending on the country, public awareness raising needs to be done on right to education, children’s right and disability rights. Legal protection and safety nets supports need to be provided to families with people with disabilities. The people with disability also need to be empowered and equipped with skills and knowledge which allows them to live an independent life.
The final pitch of the group can be seen here.

Group 4- Bilegt: A nomad man whose source of water is diminishing and has no access to proper sanitation.

The group had identified the following barriers:

  • Environmental: harsh environment due to increased effect of climate change and scarcity of water resources.
  • Social/cultural: due to challenges, there is increased migration to the cities which for Bilegt it means losing “his sense of being” and social support system.
  • Political: limited political voice and influence of population, conflict with companies, no investment in hydrogeological survey.
  • Economic: limited access to financial resources, loss of traditional income generating activity.
  • Physical: difficulty of access due to mobility.

An integrated understanding of solutions, combining bottom-up (socially inclusive) and top-down (sustainable solutions) approaches would be needed according to the group to remove these barriers. The group pitch can be see here.

Group 5- Ruksana: A 15 years old girl without forearms who is pregnant with her 2nd child.

The group identified the main barriers faced by Ruksana to be poverty, lack of support from family or community members, lack of education/trainings, disability, limited availability and distance from water sources, insecure feeling when using the latrine, social stigma inside and outside, married as a child and child pregnancy. The solution thought by group were:

  • Technological: Accessible toilets with locks which can be operated by people with disability, technology to support mobility, household access to safe drinking water (i.e. through filters).
  • Services: Accessible education/skill building centres with appropriate courses and technology for people with disability, identification & support by local government, regular follow up/ home visit by government/community health workers, optional services to deliver safe water.
  • Health: family planning methods (cycle beads), regular home visits by health workers.
  • Social Engagement & awareness: Awareness raising among different stakeholders (community leaders, men, local government, etc.).
  • Economic development: Increased livelihood options at the community level.

The group identified access to water and family planning option as priority to improve Ruksana’s situation.
You can see the pitch the group presented here.

Group 6- Amin: A district engineer in charge of WASH service delivery with insufficient resources, needing to prioritise different areas within the district.

Amin’s challenges were found to be rooted in legal, financial, knowledge, political barriers at the national level and cultural, knowledge, communication and financial at the community level. Lack of transparency and proper coordination between these two levels were also identified as a barrier. The solutions suggested by the group were:

  •  Encourage private sector financial investment.
  • Dedicated structural leadership support to district level staffs.
  • District management support in communication and planning.
  • Town halls communicating plans to the communities.
  • Capacity building at all levels.
  • Relationship building based on trust.
  • Cultivating demands and grassroots community planning.
  • Transfer of power & decision making rights from national to district and lower levels.

The group’s pitch can be seen here.

Reflection and way forward

The side event had brought together participants from the different background and organisations, namely NGOs, knowledge institutes and government. As we have defined “Active contribution of the participants and lots of ideas not to leave anyone behind” as one of the success indicators for this event, we can say that it a very successful event thanks to the energetic and engaged participants.

We still hope to receive more stories of success (or constructive failures) and increased collaboration on “Leave No One Behind” and to “Reach the Furthest Behind First”. The conveners will continue to promote the dialogue on the topic in different platforms, in particular RWSN “Leave No One Behind” discussion group.

Participants’ feedback

Lena Bunzenmeyer, Global WASH Advisor, CAWST: “ I truly enjoyed the participatory session and I definitely learned a lot. It was by far my favourite session of the entire conference! Would it be possible to get a copy of the PowerPoint presentation that went along with the session? I’d like to bring it up at CAWST as an example of both participatory learning (we love learning new techniques from others!) and also how to approach the topic of inclusive WASH services. Thank you again for your excellent facilitation!”

Reposted with thanks from Simavi; the original blogpost is available here:  https://simavi.org/long-read/pipe-dream-or-possible-reaching-the-furthest-behind-first-in-wash-sector/

Photo credits: Tom Flunder

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit https://www.rural-water-supply.net/ to find out more

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