Malagasy President becomes first chief of state in the world to sign a pledge to end open defecation: sanitation success witnessed by international officials

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Madagascar was very much centre-stage in sanitation and hygiene circles between 24 and 28 March -- days which saw the Malagasy President become the first chief of state in the world to sign a pledge in public to end open defecation in his or her own country, as well as saw a visit by a high-level international group of sanitation experts.

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One highlight of the week was an "institutional triggering" session which took place on 27 March 2015, at Colbert Hotel, in the presence of senior Government officials, Government members, WSSCC Steering Committee members, representatives of Technical and Financial Partners, civil society and sectoral stakeholders. The triggering was designed to strengthen all stakeholders’ respective commitments to provision of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, especially the eradication of open defecation.

The Government of Madagascar seized the opportunity to praise Dr Chris Williams, Executive Director of WSSCC, for the efforts he makes to support Madagascar in the development of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector. Mr Hery Rajaonarimampianina, President of the Republic of Madagascar, was also given the title of "WASH sector champion". This special distinction is awarded by WSSCC to Government leaders for their commitment to the WASH sector. Mr. Rajaonarimampianina once again showed his commitment to the issues by signing a pledge to end open defecation in Madagascar by 2019.

Between 24 and 29 March, the Steering Committee of WSSCC saw the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) programme in Madagascar, locally known as the Fonds d’Appui pour l’Assainissement (FAA), in action. Developed and guided strategically by a diverse group of national stakeholders, the FAA is facilitated by Medical Care Development International (MCDI) and implemented by 30 Sub-grantee organizations. It has evolved into a driving force in the national movement to end open defecation, which adversely affects the health, livelihood and educational opportunities for 10 million people in Madagascar and some 1 billion worldwide.

The five-day Steering Committee visit was dedicated to reinforcing the country’s top-level political commitment to a new “National Road Map” for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector that aims to end open defecation in Madagascar by 2018. Madagascar’s most senior politicians, including President Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Prime Minister Jean Ravelonarivo, the President of the National Assembly, and Dr. Johanita Ndahimananjara, Minister of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, have committed their support to achieving open-defecation free (ODF) status.

“Since 2010, Madagascar has made tremendous progress in ensuring access to basic sanitation for the rural population of the country, by introduction and scaling up of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS),” said Dr. Chris W. Williams, Executive Director of WSSCC. “Nearly 1.4 million people now live free of open defecation in over 10,900 communities throughout the country, one of the best examples of how individual and local initiative can lead to collective, transformative change for an entire country.”

The visit also coincided with heightened global awareness of sanitation in 2015. The United Nations Secretary General and Deputy-Secretary General have launched a Call to Action on Sanitation, encouraging global institutions, governments, households, the private sector, NGOs, and Parliamentarians, to eradicate the practice of open defecation.

“FAA has become an important catalyst for the initiation and creation of a national, regional and local movement in favour of eliminating open defecation,” said Dr. Rija Lalanirina Fanomeza, GSF Programme Manager, MCDI. “A wide spectrum of sanitation and hygiene stakeholders in Madagascar are actively collaborating to have maximum impact on the ground.”

Ever since President Rajaonarimampianina’s government came into power in January 2014, sanitation has received special attention, and the need for achieving an open-defecation free Madagascar has been considered inevitable by the highest political leadership of the nation.

During the visit, the delegation visited villages which are now free of open defecation, and those that are not, in order to gain a firsthand understanding of the how and why people change and sustain their sanitation and hygiene behaviours.