Towards Total Sanitation: Socio-Cultural Barriers and Triggers to Total Sanitation in West Africa

October 2009

This report documents the results of studies on open defecation in rural communities and the cultural values that reinforce the practice, which were carried out by WaterAid in four West African countries — Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. In these countries, the practice of open defecation is surrounded by cultural taboos and beliefs particular to many of the ethno-linguistic groups that live there.

While total sanitation techniques such as community-led total sanitation (CLTS) have been generally successful in West Africa, some communities with which WaterAid works are particularly resistant to abandoning open defecation. In response to these challenges, a series of in-country studies have been carried out to identify the socio-cultural barriers specific to communities in the region.

WaterAid is using the study findings to gradually adapt its sanitation programming accordingly. The strategies suggested in the second part of this paper still require further development and testing in the field, but it is hoped that some of these ideas may prove useful for other sanitation practitioners who may be experiencing similar difficulties.

This report is a regional synthesis of the in-country studies and is not intended to be an exhaustive academic examination of the causes of open defecation practices, nor is it intended to provide comprehensive guidelines for implementing CLTS projects. The report focuses on a small piece of the sanitation puzzle; other factors, including wider socioeconomic concerns, are not discussed in detail.

The most pertinent examples from across the four country studies have been included in this synthesis paper; this is not intended to give any one country greater prominence over the others, but to highlight the most interesting examples of particular practices from across the region.

Additional details

RegionWestern Africa
CountryBurkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria
ThemesBehaviour change, Challenging contexts, Social norms

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