Friday, March 7, 2014

Viet Nam spearheads new approach to water and sanitation

Trang practices hand washing with soap in Viet Nam
© UNICEF Viet Nam/2013/Matthew Dakin
Thi Trang, 12, lives in the mountainous Tuan Giao district, in northern Viet Nam. Just a few months ago, her commune had the lowest number of toilets in the whole province, as the community did not fully understand the value of sanitation facilities. Only four per cent of the families had hygienic latrines meeting Ministry of Health standards, and open defecation was widely practiced.

“I used to poop in the river”, Thi Trang says, giggling. “We had had no toilet and did not even know what it was. We used to go down the hill to the river. Everyone in the village was doing the same. During the rainy season, it was a bit scary as it became slippery and we had to watch our steps.”

Basic latrines are relatively rare in rural areas, where about 70 per cent of the country’s population live. It is estimated that close to 9 per cent of rural families in Viet Nam practice open defecation. This hinders the country’s efforts to reach the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

“It’s all about changing old habits”, explains UNICEF Viet Nam Water and Sanitation Specialist Nguyen Thanh Hien. “We focus our efforts on getting communities themselves to understand how open defecation links up with common diseases like diarrhoea and worm infection, so they can see for themselves the importance of latrines.”

Bottleneck analysis

Very intense small group discussion in Nha Trang, Viet Nam
© UNICEF EAPRO/2013/ Chander Badloe
In order to ensure that projects like this are successful, and meet the needs of local communities, UNICEF has developed a new bottleneck analysis tool to help identifying the main barriers and to develop appropriate actions to overcome these critical barriers. Viet Nam is the first country in the East Asia and Pacific region to test this out.

I took the photo above at a three-day application workshop in Nha Trang, Viet Nam, organized by the Department of Environmental Health and UNICEF. ‘Very intense small group discussion’ may be an obvious caption for the picture, but what are they discussing? Is it the increasing traffic congestion? ...the annual work plan? ...the ever changing weather? …or why the poorest, remote rural families still cannot be reached with needed basic water, sanitation and hygiene services?

As you can guess, the latter is correct. It shows officials from the Department of Environmental Health, National Center for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation, Ministries of Education and Planning from central and provincial levels, together with colleagues from the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program, Viet Nam Women’s Union and UNICEF, during one of the group discussions on the application of the tool.

What is the tool?

The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Bottleneck Analysis Tool (BAT) was developed as part of more stringent evidence-based planning and policy support to accelerate WASH progress globally. Its purpose is to facilitate detailed and comprehensive assessment of the enabling environment in the water, sanitation and hygiene sub-sectors, and thereby allow users to develop costed and prioritized plans to remove the bottlenecks that limit progress.

The tool can be used at national, sub-national, service provider or communal/household level, and be used focus on urban water, rural water, urban sanitation or rural sanitation. Each sub-sector enabling environment is characterized by 18 enabling factors, with each enabling factor further broken down into six criteria, resulting in 108 criteria in total. This indicates the level of detail that is covered and the opportunity to pinpoint barriers.

Originally developed in 2011 by UNICEF, the tool has since been tested in Ghana and Sierra Leone. In May 2013, a workshop was held in Bangkok to develop a global rollout strategy. The refinement of the BAT is an ongoing process, and UNICEF staff from selected countries around the world attended the May 2013 workshop to contribute to this process. Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and Viet Nam participated from East Asia and Pacific region.

Students wash their hands at Ban Pho Primary School in Viet Nam
© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0225/Josh Estey
Taking the initiative 

Following the global workshop, UNICEF Viet Nam took this initiative forward and in November, I participated in the first country roll-out of the BAT in this region. Prior to the Nha Trang consultation, colleagues in Viet Nam translated the tool and shared it with their government counterparts. They agreed to initially focus the application of the tool on rural sanitation and hygiene. The Viet Nam team held a three day consultation with national government partners, participants from seven focus provinces, and other stakeholders in Viet Nam.

The discussion during the workshop was very interesting. Of particular interest was the discussion to agree a common score for specific indicators and criteria, as it revealed widely varying views through sometimes very intense discussion. For example, as the group looked at each of the indicators around one particular enabling factor, it became clear that, although the overall impression on a particular enabling environment factor or indicators might be positive (green), there still are some critical issues around some of the criteria, which provides the next level of detail of barriers that need to be addressed in order to assure progress.

Through the discussions, participants recognized clearly the usefulness of the BAT for developing an action plan focused on addressing identified bottlenecks. The outcome of this consultation will be feed into a separate report to be prepared by UNICEF Viet Nam for wider sharing.

Based on the results of the first exercise, WASH stakeholders in Viet Nam will consider applying the tool in other sub-sectors and at other levels, in order to have a more comprehensive. There are also plans to undertake this similar exercise at the provincial level, looking at the sanitation enabling environment in seven provinces.

Viet Nam is the first country in East Asia and the Pacific to use this new tool, but I hope that others will follow. The experience and lessons learnt by UNICEF Viet Nam will be valuable for further roll-out of the tool in other countries in this region. The intent is that we use this tool and the methodology to identify and address critical persisting bottlenecks in the programming of WASH interventions more widely throughout the region, thereby increasing access to safe water and improved sanitation for millions of children.

Find out more
For more information on the WASH Bottleneck Analysis Tool, contact Andrew Trevett at UNICEF headquarters or myself, Chander Badloe. For additional information on Viet Nam, contact Lalit Patra.

The author
Chander Badloe, Regional WASH Advisor, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific

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