The first International Learning Exchange in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (ILEX) organized by UNICEF concluded in New Delhi on 23 November, 2006. More than 45 participants from seven countries – China, Nepal, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Burkina Faso and Iraq – took part in the programme that was launched to “to give an opportunity to different countries to see what is happening in India and get feedback from specialists”, according to UNICEF’s Chief of Water and Environmental Sanitation, Lizette Burgers.
The participants, who spent 9 days in the field in three modules, shared a rich variety of experiences. All of them were professionals from the fields of water supply and sanitation in their respective countries. While some were UNICEF staff, others came from UNICEF partner organizations and government.
UNICEF Deputy Director in India, Ann Hasselbalch, said ILEX has demonstrated that hygiene is not an end in itself but an agent for improving the overall environment. This is created through partnerships and the participation of schools and children. “Children are the agents of change.”
The Learning Exchange will be useful in achieving the Millennium Development Goal in Water and Sanitation and by being part of the process, the participants demonstrated their commitment to achieving these. It has also created a network that will help the participants in the future.
The participants were divided into three groups, Module B, C and D. Module B was further divided into China (B2) and the Rest of the World (B1). Module B travelled to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, C to West Bengal and Maharashtra and D, to Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Participants from all modules listed the high political commitment as one of the key lessons from ILEX. The other main points they gleaned during their intensive field visits was the use of local IEC material and campaigns that preceded the physical sanitation drive. This helped create a demand-driven decentralised programme, compared to the earlier model that was centrally-driven and supply-centric. Incentives and subsidies smartly applied were other powerful drivers. “An effective monitoring mechanism; time bounds, specific tools, at all levels is another key learning for us,” said Associate Professor, School of Foreign Language, Peking University, China, Jiang Jingkui.
The main replicable features, the participants reported, included synergy between Water and Environmental Sanitation (WES) and education, advocacy, IEC, developing a cadre of motivators and the involvement of local community leaders. “Eco-sanitation is a concept that we can implement in Nepal,” said Deputy Director General, Department of Water Supply and Sewerage, Nepal, Vishwa Mani Jnawali.
Project Officer, WES, UNICEF Burkina Faso, Togola Soungalo felt schools are a good entry point sanitation, health. UNICEF supports technical and strategy development for NGOs. The government and partners need a common goal to raise sanitation awareness and coverage.
The Eritrean experience was somewhat different. The country has sanitation guidelines and at the ground level there is a mechanism called participatory sanitation where the community identifies the problems and the solutions. It is practiced in communities and schools. Households contribute to their own latrines and sanitary facilities. UNICEF gives them technical support, said Project Officer, WASH, UNICEF Eritrea, Binyiri Mathew Koma. “The community selects its leaders who we train in construction. These are in charge of water management and the collect fees for make it sustainable.”
China has had a long-running programme on sanitation. In the 1950s, the government launched a campaign – national patriotic health campaign – on water supply and toilet construction. Now safe water coverage is 100% in cities and 60% in rural areas. All households have toilets but sometimes, they are not sanitary. In towns, 100% households have sanitary toilets but only 55% of rural household do so. “The current priority is to provide safe water for which the government will invest $5 billion in providing safe water during the First Year Plan for 2006-2010. It will invest $130m to provide sanitary toilets as well,” said Mr. Jingkui.
Sharing his experience from Iraq, the delegate from the Ministry of Municipalities Saman K Hussen said, “Safe water coverage is 100% in cities and 75% in rural areas. Security is the main concern now that hampers modernization and rehabilitation of facilities destroyed in the fighting.”
Sudan provides water to 80% of households but just 60% have access to sanitation, said Assistant Project Officer, WES, UNICEF, Suleiman Mahmoud Arabi. There is a separate system for urban and rural areas. “In 1995 we changed the rural water supply system and adopted a community-based system instead of a centralized one. In each state we have a steering committee for water and sanitation, that ensures joint running of water and sanitation. The committee does monitoring and evaluation as well.”
Project Officer, Water and Sanitation, UNICEF India, Kumar Alok, said participants to ILEX were sponsored by different UNICEF offices. The government of India was the real source of encouragement. UNICEF worked closely with Indian embassies and high commissions of different countries to facilitate visas. The state secretaries and other officials in the different states were positive and constructive.
ILEX coordinator Sumita Ganguly said the real spirit of the International Learning Exchange is that as professionals we can move the agenda for water supply and sanitation forward, and learn how to improve. India has a width and depth of experience that few other countries can match. “The energy and willingness to make a change is palpable and we want to showcase that.”
UNICEF plans to make ILEX an annual event with an initial focus on water and sanitation. It will extended to other activity areas as response picks up. Most participants in the first ILEX were affiliated to UNICEF in some way but it may be opened up to others in future. This will make it a rich and rewarding experience for people from other countries to learn from India.