Shared toilets in urban slums are often unclean and poorly maintained. This can lead to underutilised or abandoned sanitation facilities, with a corresponding rise in rates of open defecation. Poorly maintained toilet facilities contribute directly to environmental faecal contamination and often result in serious and widespread health issues.
Improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and WASH-related behaviour in low-income urban communities is complex. The limited political power of residents, coupled with lack of legal title to land, means that government authorities have little incentive to prioritise service provision to these areas. In addition, conventional behaviour change messages can fail to address the real causes of unclean and poorly maintained facilities, which might include a lack of defined toilet maintenance guidelines for the different families in a compound, poor landlord-tenant relations and high turnover of renters.
Aware of these challenges, the research team adopted an iterative approach to developing the behaviour change strategy for this study. Extensive formative work was conducted to better understand the specific challenges of maintaining shared toilets in low-income communities in urban Dhaka. A focus on shared toilets within compounds meant that the team could work with an identifiable community of users who, to some extent, shared common ideas about using and maintaining a communal sanitation facility. The understanding generated from this formative work was then used to develop several pilot interventions, which were repeatedly tested and revised before finalisation and full-scale roll out. The intervention’s impact on a variety of outcomes including toilet cleanliness was then evaluated.