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The aim of a household sanitation project is primarily to address public health. After this comes dignity, convenience, environmental health, sustainability, job creation and local economic development. The aim of a household sanitation project is primarily to address public health. After this comes dignity, convenience, environmental health, sustainability, job creation and local economic development. The primary beneficiaries are the household and the community. They are entitled to safe and sustainable sanitation facilities in accordance with at least the minimum standards. From this comes improved health, an increase in productivity, fewer days absent from school for children, and improved quality of life. It is important to ensure that the household and the community have these needs addressed as the highest goal in the project delivery and that these services are not neglected.

Job creation at community level and the promotion of local economic development are also important components of household sanitation delivery, however should not be prioritized before the health and sustainability components are addressed.

The goal of The Mvula Trust, in a sanitation project, is to meet all of the above – provide households (as the primary beneficiaries) with safe and sustainable sanitation while maximizing the community benefits from delivery, implementation and utilization.

Household Sanitation delivery, compared to delivery of a community hall, or a road, offers a very valuable opportunity to get to know every household in a community. Besides the Water Services Authority as the client, The Mvula Trust’s clients are every single household in the community.

Most of the work in a project involves the co-ordination of the delivery of concrete blocks, cement, sand, toilet components as well as a builders, quality assessors and health and hygiene educators to households all at around the same time. A particularly daunting set of logistic arrangements is required especially when households are scattered and there are two on the top of a hill, one across a river, one at the bottom of a steep hill. While the community benefits from sanitation delivery, sanitation delivery also benefits from the availability of local labour and the intricate knowledge of a community that local workers have.

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The Mvula Trust model of implementation depends highly on local level workers and their intricate knowledge of a community. In each community, local involvement includes: a number of builders; builders assistants; a quality assessor; health and hygiene and operation and maintenance trainers; a co-ordinator; a labour controller; a storekeeper; a health and hygiene co-ordinator; local security personnel, local transporters and local suppliers. Up to 60% of a project budget is spent at community level on wages and materials.

All of the above-mentioned workers at community level are paid per task and the programme is designed on an outcomes basis where everybody, including The Mvula Trust is paid against means of verification of work. The means of verification of work are from the extensive quality management system developed by The Mvula Trust to ensure quality and include: acceptance certificates (signed by the householder, the builder and the quality assessor on the satisfactory completion of a toilet); health and hygiene monitoring forms, and forms so that at all times responsibility is taken at community level for materials on site.

Some lessons learned in The Mvula Trust’s 20 years of sanitation delivery experience include:

  • That it is possible to achieve faster project progress utilising community-based structures than utilising technical consultants. This is because of the local knowledge of the community members and their ability to rapidly mobilise resources.
  • Payment per task with verifiable indicators is a very important success factor and this, combined with an outcomes approach, ensures no overspending on project budgets.
  • That the closer the interaction between the implementing agent and the community, and the fewer the “middle men” the more control there is over ensuring direct community benefits.
  • That the use of separate ISD and technical consultants makes the project more expensive, reduces control over aspects of the project and leads to unreliable reporting.
  • That the separating of ISD from technical job descriptions is a very big mistake. Sanitation projects are driven by social needs and interaction in and communication with communities. They should therefore not be driven by a technical approach. Where the responsibility for the social aspects of the projects is separated from the technical, it can result in a lack of overall accountability for all aspects of the project. (Technical teams blame the ISD teams for not educating the householder properly in the utilisation of the technology, and the ISD blame the technical teams for not taking the needs of the community into account and installing unsuitable technology).
  • That it is important to pay everyone per task and to pay them immediately. Mechanisms have to be put in place to pay community level workers as soon as they produce the work. This is essential in order that the community buy-in and enthusiasm for the project is not lost and the trained builders are retained.
  • That including the community in the choice of infrastructure and ensuring that they commit upfront to the sustainability strategy and their role in it is essential for ongoing sustainability of the project and can reduce the burden on a municipality considerably.
  • That follow- up Monitoring and Evaluation, preferably utilising community members that were trained during the project, for a period of three years after a project, pays considerably in terms of on-going proper maintenance of toilets,
  • Similarly, follow up reinforcement of health and hygiene messages has a similar benefit and will extend the public health outputs of the project considerably, particularly if school children are involved.
  • That, by utilising an approach where community participation is maximised, it is possible to deliver sanitation better, faster, with more community benefits, more sustainably and for a lower cost.
  • In view of the high community involvement and high level of opportunity a household sanitation project creates at community level, it is recommended that national guidelines to municipalities on how to contract for sanitation work be developed and rolled out in order to ensure that the policy objectives are met.
  • It is recommended that reviews be conducted regularly to reinforce budget guidelines and to reinforce the “some for all” principle of sanitation delivery as there are currently large regional differences in sanitation budgets and this variance should be reduced.

The future of Sanitation

The above-mentioned sanitation delivery is in the context of a government driven subsidy approach and a high prioritization of sanitation as a development objective at national level. South Africa is a specific case with regard to sanitation delivery. It is time and context specific and the huge investment made in sanitation delivery is largely owing to the co-incidence of the millennium development goals and the removal of apartheid and the need to address the huge inequality and backlog in services created as a result of this horrendous policy and practice. While it will take many more years to address the backlog and South Africa should not consider at this time reducing its investment in sanitation, the best practice in other countries in Africa and the world is very different in the absence of availability of funds.

Community led total sanitation is a concept that is being introduced to the policy debate. This is “a revolutionary approach in which communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open- defecation (OD) and take their own action to become open defecation free (ODF)” (Robert Chambers 2010). This approach works very well in certain contexts and puts sustainable sanitation in place at a low cost. South Africa is not ready for this approach, and neither is it directly applicable now, however, we need to be thinking ahead to a time beyond a post-apartheid addressing of backlog and taking the best lessons learned internationally and, without placing the burden of addressing public health on the poorest of the poor, develop a policy which is self- sustaining and incorporates the best lessons from both our capital driven approach and alternative approaches.

The growing number of municipalities which are in debt remind us that a perpetual public works programme requires perpetual funding and perpetual dependence and that this cannot go on forever in South Africa. In a normal development cycle, as the population densifies, the need arises for systems to prevent the spread of diseases as a demand, and this demand is met by entrepreneurs. This in turn leads to local economic development, wealth creation and job creation. We need to consider models which support the development of an economy around meeting sanitation needs- perhaps a model in which the poor are well aware of the benefits of sanitation and may support subsidised local businesses in addressing their sanitation needs at a very low cost. From The Mvula Trust’s experience, above, it is evident that the best managers of sanitation delivery are people within the community. Communities can, with reducing amounts of support, take responsibility for on-going delivery, themselves. Alternative ways of resourcing this activity need to be thought of years ahead of implementation.