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Friday, 25th September 2020

Mapping the state of sanitation and hygiene in southeast Madagascar

By Joshua Newell

SEED Madagascar has a long history of working to improve Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in the Anosy region of southeast Madagascar. But to improve sanitation at public institutions such as schools, where a lot of our WASH work has been focused, is one thing. To transform WASH practices in over 1,200 isolated rural villages is another challenge altogether, and it is this challenge that SEED has set its sights on this year. Working in partnership with UNICEF and in close collaboration with government authorities, the organisation has embarked on a community-led total sanitation project which aims to eliminate open defecation, improve hygiene practices, and ensure access to clean water.

Local culture and traditions, relationships and power dynamics within each community, and access to correct information, as well as the availability of key resources, all play an important role in shaping an individual’s WASH habits. To begin any kind of intervention in this area requires a good understanding of the current practices and circumstances on the ground. To build up a clear picture of this in Anosy, SEED’s community liaison officers have conducted comprehensive surveying of WASH knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) in 3,206 households across 21 communes in the region. Analysis of the results of this research paints a picture that both shocks and demonstrates the extraordinary opportunity that SEED has to make a real difference in the lives of the project’s 190,000 beneficiaries. Although this data demonstrates the scale of change required, it also shows the urgent need for transformation in this area.

47% of households travel for more than half an hour a day to collect water; some for more than six hours

Firstly, it is clear that much remains to be done to expand community access to clean and reliable water, with 31.7% of households drinking unclean surface water and only 18.9% drinking water from good-quality sources. 99.3% of households collect water every day, a task which is undertaken by women in 89.5% of those surveyed. Almost half of these households (47.0%) travel for more than half an hour a day to collect water, with some participants travelling more than six hours a day.

Moreover, when water is not transported and stored in clean containers and treated before use, households expose themselves to significant health risks. SEED found that 94.7% of households do not follow the correct procedures for water transport, storage, and treatment and 75.6% of households do not treat water at all. SEED’s Rural WASH project will not only improve access to safe and reliable sources of water, but will also encourage community-led management of such resources and increase community knowledge of best practices for ensuring that water in the home is safe and drinkable.

Banner image, above: Discussing sanitation and WASH practices in rural villages

In terms of sanitation and hygiene, the findings of the KAP survey are equally concerning. With only 0.2% of households washing their hands at critical moments (including after defecation), 12.7% of households never washing hands at all, and only 3.3% of households having basic handwashing stations, there is a clear need for key messages, skills, and resources to be shared with these communities. On top of this, more than half of households (50.7%) practice open defecation and only one household of all those surveyed met open defecation free (ODF) criteria.

However, SEED did find that 49.3% of households use “unimproved” latrines. Though they do not meet ODF criteria due to being unclean, shared between households, or lacking a flyproof cover, these latrines provide a great basis on which SEED can build to help communities to improve their sanitation conditions. Many community members are very motivated to change their WASH situation and SEED is excited to be able to support them in this process.

Latrines constructed in the villages of Mandiso and Enakara after community WASH discussions and ‘triggering’ sessions

On the positive side, the message is already starting to get through. SEED has been running campaigns across project sites to raise awareness about the importance of handwashing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has held sensitisation sessions in over 1,000 villages to ‘trigger’ communities into acting to change their WASH behaviours. Following these sessions the team have been delighted to find that many communities have leapt into action and have already begun building new latrines for their families and neighbours. SEED is now in the process of verifying over 40 villages who believe they have now reached ODF status, which shows the fantastic progress that is already being made. SEED is planning on comparing the picture of WASH conditions at the start of the project with what we hope will be a very difference scene at the end of the year. With the results of this project already bearing fruit, we look forward to bringing you the next update on our vital rural WASH work.