What has worked for Bangladesh?

30 March 2018

Over the past two decades Bangladesh has achieved significant successes around national sanitation coverage, through increased latrine access and sanitation education campaigns, which has resulted in a large part of the country’s population shifting away from open defecation to using household concrete-lined pit latrines. In this post I provide an outline of changes in the sanitation situation in nine Bangladesh unions, mostly rural areas, over a period of five or more years, drawn from a recently published report from Plan Alternatives for Change LLC, ‘Sanitation success stories: nine Bangladesh case studies‘. This report aims to share learnings and insight into how success was achieved and sustained in different parts of Bangladesh. Unions have large populations (13,000 to 50,000 or more), and are socially diverse regions, and the report shows that their pathways to sanitation success share many similarities as well as a number of significant differences.

Union sanitation campaigns

The report focuses on nine of the strongest union success stories out of 53 that were originally studied, and divides these into four groups according to their sanitation campaign histories. This is done to look firstly at the factors shaping each union campaign and then secondly to compare the campaigns within each grouping, identifying common challenges and successes, and learning about specific contextual factors and local dynamics leading to contrasting outcomes. The four sanitation campaign groups are: a) local government leaders guiding their constituents to ‘100 percent’ household latrine coverage during a 2003-2006 national sanitation campaign; b) a total sanitation approach, Dishari, that supported local leaders with training and other back-up to help them manage sanitation-promotion responsibilities; c) Community-Led Total Sanitation guided by NGOs; d) a history of involvement in the Social Mobilisation for Sanitation Campaign during the 1990s.

Key findings

One of the key findings to emerge from the report is that overall ongoing institutional and social support for maintenance or replacement of toilets were found to be important to sustained usage, also infrastructure improvements, especially roads, have increased communication opportunities in all unions except one. Poverty limits some households’ ability to comply with local standards, and some union chairmen have arranged subsidies for them to buy new equipment, repair cracked latrine rings, or even (in one case) for pit cleaning. Most of the union chairmen interviewed in 2015 faced ongoing challenges of pit latrine concrete cracking. Another problem, not solved in any union, was meeting the toilet needs of seasonally in-migrating labourers and nomadic groups. One union is becoming urbanised, with more rental housing and more crowded settlements than in most rural areas. Some degree of open defecation was found to occur in all but two of the unions in 2009-2010. Hand washing with soap was still not widely practiced at that time, but we were not able to follow up on this point in 2015.

Five of the nine chairmen interviewed in 2015 appeared to be actively monitoring local conditions and had current information on latrine coverage in their regions. Social, economic, and technical issues were of primary concern to them. Environmental challenges, such as cyclones or floods, were mentioned, but they were overcome in cases of high public motivation to maintain hygienic latrine conditions. Relationships between local leaders and NGOs vary from place to place, but NGOs are more active and prominent in all aspects of development in Bangladesh, including sanitation, than in many other countries. New efforts to reach remote areas and address faecal sludge management are underway. Public values have shifted to support hygienic latrine use. Local chairmen and their constituents in most places are making a good faith effort to sustain improvements and solve problems.

This blog post was written by Suzanne Hanchett, who is a partner at Planning Alternatives for Change, LLC.