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By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Nepal – A five-day examination of Nepal’s implementation strategies to achieve open defecation free (ODF) status has equipped 18 delegates visiting from Cambodia with a number of best practices they plan to put to good use back home.
The peer-to-peer learning exchange was hosted in Kathmandu in late January, providing Cambodian political leaders and civil servants from all levels of government with insights into how Nepal mobilized and coordinated its national sanitation campaign.
Nepal’s government-led effort accelerated sanitation coverage across the country. By 21 September 2019, all 77 districts were certified and declared ODF. Even in the challenging southern lowland region of Terai, where poverty, landlessness and cultural norms have made it difficult to change behaviour, a breakthrough in ending open defecation was achieved through an increase of sanitation coverage from 13 percent in 2013 to 99.5 percent by mid-2019.
Facing challenges in reaching the ultra-poor similar to those in Nepal, the Cambodian delegation visited the Terai region to learn how coalitions were built there among local leaders, leveraging local finance and implementing community-level behavior change initiatives.
“Since we also have issues with poverty, after visiting communities in Terai, which were the most difficult to cover, and understanding the strategies they implemented, we will prepare a plan based on our learning here and disseminate it with representatives from all 25 provinces,” said the head of the Cambodian delegation, His Excellency Meng Try, Secretary of State, Ministry of Rural Development for Cambodia.
In Cambodia’s rural areas, 48 percent of the population has access to basic sanitation, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report. With the aim of achieving ODF in all 25 provinces by 2025, the government is targeting five priority provinces to be ODF by 2023.
The Cambodian delegation consisted of representatives of national, provincial, district and commune levels of government, including the Ministry of Rural Development, Prey Veng and Kampong Chhnang provinces and Commune council, as well as of development partners such as SNV and WaterAid, and of Plan International, an executive agency of the Cambodia Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Program (CRSHIP).
Delegates were given an overview of how Nepal achieved ODF despite a number of challenges – earthquake, poverty, local elections and state restructuring – by Mr. Ramakant Dawadi, joint secretary of the Ministry of Water Supply and National Health and chair of the Sanitation Coordination Committee (NHSCC).
Among the key contributing factors identified were the government’s commitment to the campaign as a top priority, sufficient resource allocation, well-coordinated multi-stakeholders engagement, aggressive media campaigning and fostering community ownership.
As described by Ms. Sudha Shrestha, Global Sanitation Fund Manager, building local ownership and mobilizing local actors was crucial in the push for the last mile in the Terai region, where government entities, community organizations and individuals were engaged as front line actors, volunteers and champions of the cause.
According to a study by UN-Habitat, Nepal still has some challenges regarding ODF sustainability, especially in the case of landless, ultra-poor and unwilling people. It was suggested that Cambodia's experience of putting in place a standard procedure for Leaving No One Behind could prove beneficial in the Nepalese context.
In building their understanding of how Nepal’s ODF campaign worked on the ground, the delegation had the opportunity to visit a number of communities across the country, in addition to the trip to Terai.
In the village of Dhyangri, in the Kamal Rural Municipality of Jhapa District, they learned how rural municipalities prepared sector policies and strategies.
In the Dalit community in the Rural Municipality of Saptari, they met with members of the WASH Coordinating Committee and learned their approach to prioritizing at the rural municipal level for budget allocation and community participation for ODF sustainability and total sanitation.
The team visited Tharu Basti, in Nepal’s Siraha District, where they learned of the crucial role played by micro-cooperatives in providing credit at an interest rate of one percent for the construction of permanent toilets with double pits.
Also in Siraha, Mr Bed Nath Sah, Mayor of Golbazaar Municipality, described the planning, monitoring and review process for the sanitation programme, and shared the MWASH CC’s plan of action with the Cambodian team.
Over the course of the five-day exchange, members of the Cambodian delegation offered a number of observations and comments on their experience in Nepal. They noted the effectiveness of the Nepalese government’s provision of material support to ultra-poor households, while providing no subsidy to others.
Through their interactions with communities, they found a number of other initiatives quite interesting as well, including the involvement of individuals in donating land and providing materials at a lower cost at the local level, the provision of matching funds by rural municipalities to support poor households, and the issuing of low-interest loans by community savings groups for the construction of latrines.
Dr. Sayteng Lon, Chief of the Department of Rural Health Care within Cambodia’s Ministry of Rural Development, observed that while Cambodia has a system of WASH committees similar to that in Nepal, namely at the provincial, commune and village level, Nepal also has WASH committees at the district level, each of which is dedicated to translating plans and policies into outcomes.
Mr. Rotha Chin, Director of the Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRD) for the Cambodian province of Kampong Chhnang, said that even with a five-year plan and a three-year rolling WASH plan in place, it was becoming clear that provincial governments need to allocate budgets and align all WASH plans with provincial-level WASH plans, incorporating all stakeholders in the achievement of the ODF goal within a stipulated timeframe.
In Nepal, all Municipalities, Rural Municipalities, and Ward offices allocate 30 percent of the budget for social development, which includes WASH, and the budget is used for WASH activities as per the demand and need.
Mr. Ty Ung, Deputy Director of the Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRD) said he was very impressed to see the commitment of local governments and the allocation of budgets for WASH activities, and found the roles of communities, especially of women, highly commendable
Mr. Rafael Norberto Catalla, Team Leader with CRSHIP, said that while Cambodia is moving slowly towards ODF status, the way it is being done will most likely result in it being sustainable.
“We have a standard format for all the toilets and have been successful in convincing communities to build permanent toilets with the provision of twin pits," he said.
Twin pits make it possible for contents of a full pit to be left to compost while new wastes are diverted to the second. Mr. Catalla explained that this will be cost-effective in the long run, and make ODF more sustainable. By contrast, he said there is a likelihood that communities, where single pit toilets are used, might give up using toilets altogether if they don’t find a solution to the problem of fecal sludge management, a challenge inherent in the use of single pit toilets.
During the visit, delegates were able to learn about sector policies & strategies, institutional arrangements, sector financing, planning, monitoring, and review and capacity building of various stakeholders involved in the sanitation campaign.
In summing up the benefits of the learning exchange, H.E. Try said it helped his team understand the important contribution that a number of elements of the Nepalese strategy could make to the Cambodian effort to extend ODF to the remaining 28 percent of the rural parts of the country, most notably, political commitment, multi-stakeholder engagement and community partnership, along with proper planning backed by adequate financial and technical resources.