No water, no sustainability for ODF campaign – WSSCC National Coordinator in Madagascar

Date: 6th April 2020

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By Hoby Randrianimanana

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar – A recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by UNICEF and INSTAT (Madagascar National Institute of Statistics) on WASH in Madagascar has shown a significant decrease in drinking water coverage – from 54% (reported by WHO/UNICEF JMP) in 2017 to 41% in 2018. The same survey reveals a major gap in coverage for rural and urban areas. Only 32% of the population in rural areas has access to basic water services compared to 69% in urban areas.

In the lead up to World Water Day, WSSCC spoke with Ms Michele Rasamison Andriambahiny, WSSCC National Coordinator in Madagascar and President of FAA Programme Coordinating Mechanism (MCP), to discuss her views on access to WASH services and equality and non-discrimination (EQND) in Madagascar.

A mechanical engineer by training, Ms Rasamison joined the WASH sector 12 years ago when she was appointed as Technical Advisor to the Minister of Water, shortly after the department was created in 2008. Her appointment to the new role was very timely as the implementation of WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) programme in Madagascar was underway, and she was assigned to be in charge of its finalization.

Ms Rasamison has been the President of MCP since November 2008, and took the role of WSSCC National Coordinator ad interim in 2018, following the dissolution of Diorano-WASH, a WSSCC-affiliated multi-stakeholder professional network and knowledge exchange platform. Ms Rasamison has been a key figure and contributor to the GSF programme in Madagascar, since its inception in 2010.

WSSCC: What can you say about access to WASH services in Madagascar and its implications on EQND?

Ms Michele Rasamison Andriambahiny, WSSCC National Coordinator in Madagascar: To me, the inability to access drinking water, or just water, is automatically a form of inequality because water is life. Improving sanitation and hygiene is achievable through the realization that defecating in the open can cause unintentional ingestion of faecal matters, resulting in contraction of diseases like diarrhoea. That means that people can improve their sanitation and hygiene through behaviour change, even though they are poor.

Access to water, on the other hand, depends on external circumstances such as climate, as seen in the south of Madagascar. We have witnessed palpable progress in ending open defecation in that particular region of Madagascar, but sadly, unlike in other regions in the country, getting water there remains a major challenge. Such inequality in WASH could then have negative impacts on the socio-economic life of the population.

WSSCC: In your opinion, what could be the impact of this inequality in access to WASH services on vulnerable groups such as women, young girls, and children on their daily lives?

Ms Rasamison: I think poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene in Madagascar brings about a number of social problems, such as inability to attend school for menstruating girls due to the lack of adequate facilities to manage menstruation, domestic violence due to failure to provide for sanitation needs such as fetching water, and poverty.

But of the three WASH components, water shortage creates the most inhumane living conditions for these groups, such as what is happening in the south of Madagascar, where we have seen women and girls fetching water from roads potholes and curbs or walking for about a dozen kilometres to find water sources.

That situation to me is a trigger for social inequality and discrimination. In places hit by water shortage, people cannot grow food. Therefore, they are undernourished and have poor health. Children under five years old are the ones that suffer the most.

WSSCC: What three things upset you most about the water, sanitation and hygiene situation in Madagascar?

Ms Rasamison: First, it’s the almost non-existence of water infrastructure in regions like the south of Madagascar. What upsets me about the situation is that there is water in the region, but people cannot get it due to lack of a proper water system.

As many communities work towards ending open defecation, the first thing they request once reaching the ODF status is water. The second thing is seeing cities and towns being submerged in dirt and insalubrity. From our experience, triggering behaviour change in rural and remote communities is a lot easier than in areas with high concentrations of people such as big cities, district towns and chef lieu de commune. These areas often keep communities across the country from reaching full ODF status.

The last thing that angers me about the WASH situation in Madagascar is the failure of political leaders and authorities to take responsibility and engage in efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene, making them bad role models for their constituents.

WSSCC: High poverty rates, lowest social sector allocations, geographic remoteness and the impacts of climate change are just some of the problems facing vulnerable communities in Madagascar. When we talk about inclusion and Leaving No One Behind, what in your view could be the best way to close the gap and ensure equality for those likely to be left behind?

Ms Rasamison: Again, I insist on the need to establish water infrastructure that meets the needs of people living in water-scarce areas. Our decade-long experience has taught us that when people in a community are making an effort to improve their sanitation and hygiene, there is a need for local authorities and/or local stakeholders such as NGOs and private businesses working in the field of sanitation to prioritize investment in water infrastructure.

Since the end goal of the investment is to help sustain behaviour change towards a healthier lifestyle, the infrastructure to be built needs to be resilient to harsh weather conditions. There’s also a need to establish schools and health centres close to communities.

WSSCC: What piece of advice would you give individuals, organizations and communities in Madagascar working to accelerate progress in achieving the SDG on water and sanitation?

Ms Rasamison: I would like to recommend the adoption of the “WASH All-in-One” model, introduced by the former Minister in all WASH projects. WASH All-in-One consists of bringing all three WASH components (water, sanitation and hygiene) to a community in parallel and at the same time.

Given that not all organizations work on all three components, they are encouraged to collaborate to implement the model. For instance, those working in sanitation and hygiene should establish partnerships with those working in water and vice versa.

Ideally, organizations should work on all three components in their projects whenever possible. If each project site implements WASH All-in-One, the chance of getting satisfactory and sustainable results will increase.

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