Water, Hygiene, Sanitation: Global WASH Cluster solutions to improve the quality of humanitarian response.

Today, 2.2 billion people – or 29% of the world’s population – lack access to safely managed domestic water supply services; 4.2 billion people – or 55% of the world’s population – lack safely managed sanitation services; 3 billion people – or 40% of the world’s population – still lack basic home-based handwashing facilities1. These figures have serious consequences, with some 525,000 children dying every year from diarrhoea2. Yet 58% of diarrhoea cases in middle- and low-income countries are attributable to inadequate access to water, hygiene and sanitation services3.

However, Sustainable Development Goal (SDO) n°6 aims to ensure that everyone has access to clean water services by 2030. In order to achieve this goal, many organisations – NGOs, International Organisations, governments etc. – are mobilised in the field to achieve this goal. The actions of these institutions are coordinated at the national level by governments, or by “national WASH clusters4” or “WASH humanitarian coordination group”. Their aim is to coordinate the international response and distribute the different actors geographically. The latter, in turn, provide data – mostly quantitative – on the activities carried out. Qualitative evaluations of projects also take place, but often once the programme has ended. This is often too late to allow managers to take corrective action.

It is from this observation that the Global WASH Cluster’s Quality Assurance & Accountability Initiative (QAAI) was born in 2018. Its main objective is to strengthen the qualitative monitoring of activities in order to improve the quality of humanitarian responses and the sector’s accountability towards the people affected. This initiative is implemented by Solidarités International, in partnership with Oxfam, Tufts University and UNICEF.

This article will return to the Global WASH Cluster and QAAI. It will describe the tools developed by the project to implement an effective and continuous quality assurance and accountability system and it will look at the start of the project’s roll-out in Southern Sudan.

Myanmar, 2008 / ©Solidarités International

The origins of the Global WASH Cluster

Clusters are born as a result of the 2005 Humanitarian Reform agenda 2005. This reform aims to improve the predictability of aid, the accountability of organisations, the coordination between different humanitarian actors and to strengthen partnerships during emergency humanitarian responses. It advocates the establishment of “clusters” which could be activated during crises and which would enable humanitarian action to better coordinate.

This desire to improve aid was reiterated following the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan in 2010. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) publishes a transformative agenda to strengthen the effectiveness of multilateral humanitarian aid.

Once again, the humanitarian community, through this document, reiterates its desire to transform aid in order to strengthen its accountability, coordination and leadership5. The Global WASH Cluster (GWC) was born out of this movement in 2006 and now has 77 members.

Why implement a Quality Assurance and Accountability System?

Humanitarian crises are complex and dynamic. Partners need to be able to rely on reliable information, gathered in real time, in order to (i) meet their commitments in terms of quality and accountability towards beneficiaries and (ii) improve and adapt their practices in line with the changing context in which they operate.

National Clusters mostly focus on monitoring the activities of partners or evaluating the coverage of the response rather than understanding whether it is safe, inclusive, participatory and effective. In other words, National Clusters tend to answer the questions “who does what, where and when” rather than asking whether the response is relevant and meets the needs of beneficiaries.

The risk is then to evaluate the humanitarian response and manage it in such a way as to maximise the number of beneficiaries or water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) services, without understanding whether real progress is being made towards achieving quality or accountability objectives. For example, the number of latrines built in an area is monitored but not their actual use by different groups in the community.

Quality Assurance and Accountability Systems (QAAS) are one way of addressing this situation, strengthening accountability to beneficiaries, and ensuring that quality standards are met by partners on a sustainable basis.

Mossoul, Iraq, 2017 / ©Solidarités International

What is quality and accountability and why is it essential?

The quality of a humanitarian response is judged by two elements: the results achieved and the process by which these results are achieved. Deviations in quality are measured against standards and are mainly due to the way in which humanitarian aid is designed and/or implemented. They are reflected either directly in programme results or in the way people affected by the crisis perceive the aid provided.

Quality can be objectively defined and measured. However, humanitarian responses are subject to external constraints. A realistic approach is therefore needed to optimise the quality of programmes, rather than trying to achieve too high standards.

Partners in the sector, in this case WASH, must therefore commit to a process of continuous improvement of their programmes while taking into account the constraints associated with the context. A Quality Assurance and Accountability System (QAAS) is a coordinated approach that allows decisions to be made based on concrete facts. The aim is to ensure that the quality and accountability standards, decided by WASH partners for their interventions, are respected and discussed with a view to continuous improvement.

This system provides a means to monitor the WASH response against a framework of reference listing quality and accountability standards for humanitarian WASH interventions. These standards are established by consensus among partners and adapted to the context. They are regularly reviewed.

The QAAI project, how does it work?

The Quality Assurance and Accountability initiative has developed two main tools to support WASH humanitarian coordination groups in the implementation of a continuous and collective Quality Assurance and Accountability System.

The first is a note explaining the quality assurance process which provides a framework for monitoring and analysis to improve programmes. The second is the Modular Analysis Framework which defines basic standards, indicators and monitoring approaches to be used according to WASH’s areas of intervention which are priorities in the given context.

The quality assurance process is defined in 5 steps: define, measure, analyse, improve and learn.

It is adapted from the “Define-Measure-Analysis-Improve-Control “6 method used in the industrial sector.

The approach combines a continuous process of monitoring, analysis and improvement with a periodic review of lessons learned. Monitoring focuses on the collection of relevant, feasible and results-oriented measures.

It gives priority to understanding the “reality on the ground”, through the perspectives of people affected by the crisis.

 

1. Define

This first step allows national WASH Clusters to define key quality and accountability indicators that are adapted to the context and identified priorities. These will be integrated into the modular analysis framework – which we present below – for the monitoring and qualitative evaluation of ongoing programmes. The exercise of defining key indicators allows us to focus only on those indicators that are relevant to improving effectiveness.

2. Measuring

This phase is to be carried out continuously. It consists of collecting data to inform the key quality indicators set out in step 1 and to disaggregate them by gender, age, disability, location, etc. as required. The data will enable stakeholders to have an overall picture of quality, in the form of a Quality Snapshot.

Example of Quality Snapshot Myanmar.

3. Analyse

This phase takes place in parallel with step 2 – data collection. It enables us to identify the points where quality needs to be strengthened and to list the actions to be implemented to remedy this. These proposals will take the form of an action plan.

4. Improving

The programme improvement phase is also carried out continuously and in parallel with steps 2-collection and 3-analysis. During this stage, programmes can be readjusted to better meet the needs of the population. The communities targeted by the programmes are included in the reflection process and their feedback on the quality of the programmes is discussed and taken into account.

5. Learn

This last phase allows us to take a step back from the initial hypotheses and strategic orientations defined in the Humanitarian Needs Overview. It aims to reflect on the long term humanitarian response in the country.

The table below summarises the steps to follow.

Quality assurance process: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Learn.

The Modular Analysis Framework is a flexible tool for targeting priorities.

The Modular Analysis Framework is composed of different modules that provide guidance on standards and indicators, according to sub-areas that each cluster can prioritise according to the local context and constraints.

It is a flexible tool to be used to collect the information strictly necessary to improve the programmatic and technical quality and accountability of the response at the sector level.

So far, three modules have been developed: “Public Health Risks”, “EHA Service Delivery” and “People Centred Programming”.

Each module is composed of the following 5 elements:

  1. Standards: a reminder of international reference standards.
  2. Key Quality Indicators: to assess whether the quality objective is achieved.
  3. References: elements which enable the key quality indicators to be contextualised (locality, security context, etc.).
  4. Monitoring approaches: indicate the way in which data is collected.
  5. Data collection: examples of questions to be included in questionnaires, interviews, etc.

We share here, in part, the “Public Health Risks” module in order to report concretely on the work of the initiative.

MODULE ON PUBLIC HEALTH RISKS

Water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) programmes generally address public health risks related to fecal-oral disease transmission. Diagram F illustrates the different routes of fecal-oral transmission, as well as the barriers that are effective in preventing transmission. It is often difficult to use health data to monitor the effectiveness of WASH programmes because of the availability of data and the many factors that can confound results. Monitoring the presence of key barriers can be used as a proxy for estimating the level of risk to public health from WASH-related diseases.

Diagram F from the Sphere Handbook.

In this example, four components have been identified as potentially posing a public health risk. These are the ones that will need to be addressed to prevent fecal-oral disease transmission. They are presented in the table below.

Each component is associated with an international standard, which is then broken down into key quality indicators adapted to the context.

The Key Quality Indicators (KQIs) proposed in this module provide an overview of the relative risks of oral faecal transmission in different settings, places and population groups. Although they cannot be used to define an absolute risk, their use can help in understanding and prioritizing where corrective measures are needed to improve the effectiveness of responses.

For example, for the water quantity component, the standard, derived from the Sphere 2018 handbook, is as follows:

Water Supply Standard 2.1 : Access and quantity of water. People have equitable and affordable access to a sufficient quantity of safe water to meet their domestic and drinking needs.

The proposed key quality indicator for this component is: “% of the affected population using sufficient water for drinking, cooking, household and personal hygiene”. “Sufficient water quantity” is to be defined by the national WASH Cluster in consultation with the groups concerned or by reference to national standards.

Three kinds of monitoring approaches are proposed by the QAAI teams. For water quantity, this can be (i) rapid: key informant interviews, observation, (ii) in-depth: survey of water users, (iii) triangulation: water pumping/delivery records, mapping of water points, qualitative information from focus group discussions or participatory approaches. These approaches can be used by Cluster partners.

Analysis questions are then proposed. In order to assess the quantity of water available, the teams can analyse the data collected from the proposed questions:

  • Is there enough water available at household level to enable all affected people to drink, cook and wash and to keep their environment clean?
  • Who faces particular difficulties in accessing water of sufficient quality?
  • Who might need different amounts of water?
  • How much water is used on a daily basis?
  • Does water use change due to seasonality or functionality (due to changes in demand or supply)?

It is up to each national WASH cluster to adapt this modular analytical framework to its own terrain and priorities.

Petit Goave, Haiti, 2010 / ©Solidarités International

An initiative, rooted in the field

The work of the Quality Assurance and Accountability Initiative team does not stop there. Once these tools have been developed, the teams support the national clusters in adapting the proposed procedures and implementing their own quality assurance and accountability system. The objective is first of all to take stock of the existing quality approach within the national EHA clusters (see general questions for Southern Sudan*), while adapting the approach to the priorities of the field teams and local issues.

The first field missions took place in 4 countries: Bangladesh (Cox’s Bazaar), Myanmar, South Sudan and Colombia. Six other countries are also part of the pilot countries: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Haiti, Mali, Ecuador and Venezuela. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of implementations are being done remotely. In this last section, we will detail the implementation of the initiative in Southern Sudan, where the IAQ teams were able to visit.

The launch of QAAI in Southern Sudan

The Quality Assurance and Accountability Initiative team met with members of the WASH cluster in Southern Sudan. The objectives of the 10-day visit were as follows:

  • To improve the understanding of the WASH humanitarian response in Southern Sudan.
  • Raise awareness of the Global WASH Cluster’s QAAI initiative among the national WASH coordination.
  • Agree on a definition of quality and identify the monitoring protocol appropriate to the context.
  • Develop an action plan for quality monitoring.

Data was first collected on the general context of Southern Sudan. This country presents a complex humanitarian situation, marked by a large number of internally displaced people with increased needs. The level of water, hygiene and sanitation services is relatively low. Some WASH infrastructures have been targeted by armed actors during the different conflicts. The country is facing cholera, malaria and hepatitis E epidemics. Waterborne diseases are present in the country and are linked to malnutrition issues. Gender-based violence is closely linked to access to WASH services. In general, the humanitarian response is under-funded. More specific information on the functioning of the humanitarian response has also been compiled.

The QAAI teams are asking themselves the following questions* in order to answer the above objectives.

  • How is quality defined in humanitarian responses? What documents are used to disseminate this definition? How is this definition jointly developed by partners?
  • How do we ensure that the collective reports of WASH partners reflect the reality on the ground? (and as experienced by the people concerned)?
  • How do we ensure that the reports trigger corrective action on the ground?

Concretely, during the visits, all existing quality and accountability indicators are identified and analysed. Some proposed by the QAAI are already integrated by the national clusters. In this case, the teams think about how to improve data monitoring. Others are to be added in the cluster approach, in order to comply with the quality framework proposed by the QAAI.

At present, several indicators have already been integrated into the monitoring and analysis of the WASH Cluster:

  • Consultation of affected communities before the start of activities.
  • The implementation of a complaints/feedback mechanism.
  • The taking into account of consultations and complaints/feedback to adapt the activities implemented.
Southern Sudan, 2013 / ©Solidarités International

From these observations, an action plan was developed by the national WASH Cluster teams and the QAAI project team. This document plans the integration of the Quality Assurance and Accountability initiative into the WASH Cluster’s project monitoring processes.

This first step in the initiative’s process enables actions to be refocused on affected populations. Ultimately, these actions will enable the WASH South Sudan Cluster to develop the Quality Snapshot as proposed by the initiative and described above.

More generally, the QAAI project is part of a strong desire on the part of humanitarian organisations to improve the quality, sustainability and accountability of their actions. The initiative responds to this by supporting the setting up of continuous quality assurance and accountability systems in national WASH Clusters. It is the continuous aspect which makes the QAAI proposal specific and strong, as it will enable projects to be improved in real time and to be as close as possible to the needs expressed by the target population. This project within the Global Wash Cluster puts the people affected and the response to their needs at the heart of its action.

Lise Lacan

Madeleine Trentesaux

Who is Lise Lacan?

Lise Lacan is a chemical and environmental engineer. She has worked for more than 10 years in major NGOs and UN agencies as a Water, Hygiene and Sanitation specialist in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia responding to emergencies in different contexts, including armed conflicts, natural disasters or epidemics. She now works at Solidarités International as coordinator of the Quality Assurance and Accountability Initiative of the Global WASH Cluster, of which the NGO is a member.

Lise Lacan on LinkedIn.

Who is Madeleine Trentesaux?

After a degree in Anthropology at Paris Nanterre, Madeleine went on to complete a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at Sciences Po Paris. Interested in humanitarian and public health issues, she now works with Alain Boinet for the publishing of the Défis Humanitaires website.

Madeleine Trentesaux on LinkdIn.

1 JMP, WHO & UNICEF

2Diarrhoea“, WHO

3 Solidarités International’s Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Strategy 2020-2025

4 Water, Hygiene, Sanitation, or WASH

5 See InterAgency Standing Committee, Transformative Agenda

6 Adapted in “Define – Measure – Analyse – Improve – Learn” for the humanitarian sector.

 

The environment is also a humanitarian issue.

Reducing the negative environmental impact of humanitarian interventions in the areas of Water, Hygiene and Sanitation: the example of Solidarités International’s strategic sanitation program.

On September 21, 2020, Aude Lazzarini, head of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene division at Solidarités International (SI) presented how SI takes into account and integrates environmental issues in its operations. This presentation took place during a meeting of the Groupe de Réflexion Urgence Post-Urgence (GRUPC), hosted by Médecins du Monde, in its Parisian headquarters.

The GRUPC was created in 2009. It is an informal space for information, reflection and exchange between humanitarian leaders, experts, representatives of foundations and public authorities. The first presidents of the GRUPC were Benoît Miribel, Anne Héry, and then Philippe Ryfman. This group is now chaired by Francis Chahron.

Aude Lazzarini spoke at a meeting questioning the environmental impact of humanitarian action.

Taking the environment into account, an issue at the heart of Solidarités International’s 2020-2025 program priorities

In recent decades, the environment has been under constant and increasing anthropogenic pressure: global warming, deforestation, soil depletion, disappearance of arable land, decrease and degradation of water resources, etc. The environment is under constant and increasing pressure. These phenomena contribute to the social and economic precariousness of the most vulnerable populations, weakening their resilience to shocks and stresses. At the same time, the recurrence of natural disasters continues to increase both in frequency and intensity.

Solidarités International – a confirmed humanitarian actor – has set itself the mission of providing assistance as quickly and effectively as possible to populations that are victims of conflicts, epidemics and natural disasters. The NGO responds to their vital needs and accompanies them until they regain the means of subsistence and autonomy to face future challenges with dignity.

As such, Solidarités International is convinced that the environmental issue must be of major importance to the humanitarian community. Moreover its interventions are often concentrated in fragile and/or degraded contexts, suffering from a structural deficit (in terms of legislative framework, public services, rational management of resources etc.), and particularly vulnerable to climatic hazards. Humanitarian actors thus have a duty to set an example and to limit/mitigate the impact of their interventions on the environment.

However, taking environmental issues into account during humanitarian operations is relatively complex. Humanitarian actors often operate in rather constraining areas due to restricted access to the field and to data on the situation and the environment of intervention (population, customs, hydrogeology, topography, etc.), limited private sector supply, degraded functioning of public institutions, high exposure to climatic hazards, etc. Moreover, they often act in emergency situations requiring a rapid response and limiting, or even not allowing, the realization of studies and investigations over a long period of time. In these contexts, the preparation and anticipation of environmental issues then become essential.

For the past two years, Solidarités International has been carrying out an in-depth strategic review of its operating methods. The NGO has integrated the consideration of the environment at the heart of its programmatic strategy, which has the overall objective of supporting the most vulnerable people affected by crises to better cope with shocks and pursue their future prospects.

SI finalized its environmental policy in 2020. It reflects the importance given to the sustainability of its interventions. The framework document that accompanies its implementation will be added to it by the end of the year.

This positioning document recognizes the importance of taking the environment into account when designing and implementing interventions, as well as in the logistical processes that accompany them. SI is committed to integrating the challenges of environmental awareness at the following 3 levels:

  • Headquarters level: energy efficiency, waste sorting, responsible purchasing of goods and services, rationalization of international business travel, etc.
  • Field operations: supply chain (responsible purchasing of goods and services/transportation/storage), vehicle fleet, energy management, waste recycling, etc.
  • Programs (design, implementation and monitoring): environmental risk analysis, protection and sustainable management of natural resources, prevention and appropriate management of waste, limitation of negative effects on the environment, containment of health risks, etc.
Emptyers in action in a latrine in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.®Solidarités International

Concretely, during its interventions, SI is committed to considering environmental issues from two perspectives:

  • The reduction of the negative environmental impacts of interventions and office operations;
  • Strengthening the sustainability of its interventions, by reducing the exposure and vulnerability of populations and systems to climatic hazards and the degradation and/or depletion of natural resources, through the implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures.

The operational application of its commitments through sector strategies for 2020-2025

The “programmatic” operationalization of SI environmental policy is achieved through its technical programmatic strategies, or sectoral strategies. To date, the “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene” and “Food Safety and Livelihoods” strategies have been completed and constitute the first SI sector strategies.

The WASH 2020-2025 strategy is ambitious and places public health, well-being and dignity of the affected populations at the center of its interventions. It is in line with the global logic of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aims to achieve, in a degraded context, SDGs 3 and 6 which target, respectively, health and well-being and universal access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030. This WASH sector strategy targets 3 priority programmatic axes, for which Solidarités International aims to improve practices and develop expertise, knowledge and innovations.

Strengthening the fight against epidemics :

This will implies strengthening multisectoral coordination and increasing the number of joint actions and initiatives between the EAH and Health sectors. It includes consolidating local epidemiological surveillance systems – including community and environmental surveillance -, improving the predictability of epidemics and the effectiveness of rapid responses, and strengthening drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services in treatment centers and urban “hotspots” for endemic diseases.

Strengthening the quality of WASH interventions in the shock absorption phase :

During this first phase of emergency response, the objective is to better consider the “do not harm” principle. This is done by systematizing (i) the implementation of protective measures against all forms of violence and attacks on the well-being and dignity of the affected populations, (ii) by containing health risks as much as possible and (iii) by minimizing negative environmental impacts. On this last point, SI has prioritized – among other things – better preservation and management of water resources for the coming period. The objective is, for example, to put in place, as soon as the various players arrive in the field, sufficient coordination and monitoring of the water resources used. When this is not done, it can lead to overexploitation of resources, as it was the case in Maiduguri in Nigeria. The exploitation of the artesian aquifer – in order to meet the high demand generated by the massive influx of IDPs (internally displaced people) – has led to a significant drop in the static level of the aquifer. The absence of specific monitoring limited the capacity to implement mitigation measures in time.

Another common problem concerns sanitation. In the early stages of crisis response, sanitation services are often not considered as a full-fledged sector comprising several steps: excreta collection, transport, treatment and disposal. Humanitarian action tends to focus on the construction of latrines – to collect excreta and contain health risks – while “forgetting” the actions of emptying and treating sludge. Sludge is usually handled by the informal private sector. However, the informal private sector does not always take into account the environment and the negative impacts that its actions can have on it. It sometimes deposits excreta in nature, thereby exposing populations to health risks and the environment to heavy pollution.

This practice – of not taking into account the entire sanitation chain in the first phase of an emergency – is quite common in the humanitarian sector given the difficulty of setting up effective treatment systems. The design, dimensioning and commissioning of these systems requires expertise, reflection, studies and training – activities that take place in a temporality quite different from the urgency of humanitarian action. The question is therefore the following: how to do well and quickly activities involving opposite temporalities, all in a degraded context? As we will see below, SI has developed a specific strategic sub-program to address these issues.

Strengthening public WASH services in degraded contexts :

This last programmatic priority involves supporting local authorities in maintaining and/or strengthening their essential WASH public services in degraded, crisis-affected areas, where pressure on these services is increased due to a massive influx of forcibly displaced persons (IDPs and refugees) or to the outbreak of an epidemic. It is happening, for example, in northern Burkina Faso, where large numbers of refugees are arriving in urban centers. This influx of people adds strong pressure on an already fragile and degraded drinking water supply service. Demand is becoming too great in relation to supply and is further weakening an already obsolete service. In this context, integrated water resource management is a key component of environmental awareness. It is necessary to systematize good practices to guarantee optimal performance of infrastructures and rational use of the resource and thus ensure that there is no overexploitation of the groundwater, in a logic of anticipation of the future recovery of the area.

Intervention logic and principles of intervention EAH of SI ®Solidarités International

The strategic sub-programme on sanitation – facilitating the development of complete value chains

SI develops thematic strategic programs in order to propose concrete solutions to problems encountered in the field and thus “operationalize” the organization’s positioning and political will.

The objective of the specific “Sanitation” program is as follows: knowing that often leaves behind the treatment of sewage sludge in emergency situations, SI wishes to actively support the systematization of the development of complete sanitation systems in humanitarian contexts.

Manual transport of sewage sludge, Sittwe, Myanmar. 2020 ®Marine Ricau / Solidarités International
Drying of sewage sludge, Sittwe, Myanmar. 2020 ®Marine Ricau / Solidarités International

To do so, SI has developed a specific program for sanitation in crisis context. It aims to support the design and implementation of effective and sustainable sludge treatment solutions in long-term crisis contexts (> one year), while proposing temporary solutions for emergency response. The latter make it possible to confine health risks while waiting for sustainable sludge treatment solutions to be put into service.

The concrete problem in the field is the duration of the feasibility studies required for the design and dimensioning of treatment centers, as well as the construction and commissioning times. Generally, these initial actions can take up to a year. The question is therefore what temporary solutions can be implemented, pending the installation and commissioning of sustainable technologies.

SI seeks to develop, with partners such as the Veolia Foundation or Tufts University, transitional responses to limit health risks and negative environmental impacts. These are innovative solutions that are generally costly in terms of operating costs, but whose investment costs are fairly low. They make it possible to contain the risk before setting up more permanent structures, which have high investment costs but limited operating costs.

Two temporary solutions to limit environmental risk: bio-additives and sludge sanitization

SI will soon start two pilot tests in partnership with the Véolia Foundation. The first one on bio-additives, which are micro-organisms that degrade faecal matter. They would make it possible to limit the volume of sludge and have a greater time interval between each emptying. Less sludge would therefore be produced and the risk for the environment and health would be reduced.

The second research focuses on a solution developed by the Fondation Véolia – the SANIFORCES – with which SI would be associated for the field tests. These are modular systems that would allow sludge to be hygienized by diverting the methanization process – thus achieving a 99.9% reduction in pathogens, which would allow the sludge to be disposed of in nature without spreading a health hazard. A rigorous selection of disposal sites would be associated with this process in order to also limit environmental risks, particularly the pollution of water resources.

These two solutions are temporary, but SI is also seeking to identify sustainable solutions adapted to long-term crises. For this purpose, SI has developed a website, Octopus (see our article on this collaborative platform here), which promotes experience sharing and disseminates feedback on treatment solutions implemented in the main theaters of humanitarian action. The objective is thus to draw up an exhaustive picture of all sludge treatment processes that exist in the humanitarian context. The solutions are described and their advantages and disadvantages are detailed in order to help practitioners choose the most appropriate solution for their field.

Sludge treatment plant, Sittwe, Myanmar. 2020 ®Marine Ricau / Solidarités International
Sludge treatment plant, Sittwe, Myanmar. 2020 ®Marine Ricau / Solidarités International

At the same time, Solidarités International is professionalizing and increasing the efficiency of its existing sludge treatment plants. In Myanmar, for example, SI – in partnership with the Veolia Foundation – is improving the quality of its sludge treatment plant (find our article on this laboratory in Myanmar here). The NGO also wishes to conduct a thesis project to explore ways in which the outputs of this process could be used for agricultural reuse (compost and irrigation water).

Taking the environment into account is thus a key issue at Solidarités International. It is integrated into SI‘s development strategies because the populations supported by the NGO are often the most vulnerable to climatic hazards. For ethical and exemplary reasons, Solidarités International therefore considers it essential to take into account the environmental impact of its programs.

Aude Lazzarini

Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Manager

Operations Department Program Assistant, Solidarités International

DOAP Contact: Program Director, Anne-Lise Lavaur: allavaur@solidarites.org

Questions & Answers

Following Aude Lazzarini’s intervention, participants were able to ask questions on and comment the presentation. The issue of access to expertise was raised and Aude was able to present the different levers put in place at SI to strengthen partnerships in a “multi-actor” logic. Participants also discussed the role of innovation and the obstacles to the development of innovative techniques. These difficulties are both financial and linked to a positioning of the sector that is rather risk averse, although risk is necessary for innovation.

Comment: I would like to highlight a point of difficulty in Solidarités International approach, which is the time, skills and cost that all these activities entail. This is a real problem when you have little equity capital and an additional challenge – to do better with limited resources. What Aude and her team have developed is interesting because they have worked with operational or academic actors who bring other essential skills. The “multi-actor” approach is important because it allows us to find solutions that we cannot afford on our own, either financially or scientifically.

Question: Faced with the question of lack of means, my question is: are there any working groups, development groups to reflect on these overall questions that you have presented? At SI, have you met with other NGOs to collectively think about these questions?

Aude Lazzarini: Yes, indeed, we are part of working groups on these questions. For example, on a global scale, we are very active in the Global Wash Cluster, which is a coordinating body for humanitarian action. We are part of a specific working group on sanitation and we have a lot of exchanges with other NGOs, Oxfam, for example, which has also prioritized sanitation for the coming years. Our site, Octopus, has just been put online on the GWC website.

At the national level, we are mainly involved in working groups on access to WASH services in emergency situations with the PFE group (French Water Partnership). Here too, we are working on multi-actors. The difficulty is that there are many issues and it is difficult to address them all.

Finally, our active participation in Groupe URD’s Humanitarian Environment Network has allowed us to mature our thinking on issues related to taking the environment into account, in terms of programm and logistics, with other humanitarian actors operating in the field and to advance our positioning.

One of the limits we encounter at SI is access to expertise. WASH responses require the mobilization of a wide range of skills that cannot always be fully internalized within NGOs, and this is essential if we want to (better) take the environment into account (among other things). This is one of the reasons why we have developed a lot of multi-stakeholder involvement, through consortiums and partnerships. We also have many projects underway – in conjunction with our main technical sponsors (Aquassistance, Fondation Véolia, ESF, Renewgies, etc.) – to set up hotlines to optimize the technical support provided to teams in the field.

The other difficulty, which is one of the main limitations for SI, is access to the financial counters that enable innovation to be financed. To innovate, we have to take risks, test solutions, define whether they work or not. But we are in an environment that, from a technical point of view, is somewhat risk-averse. We tend to want things to work the first time around, we often prefer conventional approaches, etc. All this is a limit to questioning our practices and improving them. When, in addition, the organization has little equity, as is the case with SI, it is all the more challenging.

Comment: I would like to add a comment about the environmental impact of our activities. If we want to work on these issues, the technologies we develop must also be robust, appropriate and not generate significant environmental impacts. We have to think about a logic of technology, of response that integrates, from its conception, this problem. We must not throw ourselves into new technological solutions which, if we look at them according to their overall ecological balance sheet, will have other effects, some of which will be harmful to the environment.

Question: You brought up the subject of doing things quickly and well, when we barely have the time to do them well. The question of global vision in anticipation of crises is a very interesting subject. Are the resources you have developed freely accessible?

A.L.: Yes, of course. In the WASH strategy of Solidarités International, there are thematic axes, but also specific institutional objectives. For water, sanitation and hygiene, the first intention is to strengthen the fight against epidemics and to provide efficient and adapted WASH services; the second is to innovate and develop access to expertise. The third intention, which answers your question, is advocacy and knowledge sharing. We want to share the results of all the research that is being undertaken and thus contribute to the production of knowledge within the sector and disseminate it widely. For example, for research on bio-additives, we are working with an academic partner and we will arbitrate whether this technology works or not. If it doesn’t work, we will disseminate the fact that it was a failure. We can close the debate and try to find other solutions. The idea is always to serve the sector and humanitarian action.

Question: Have you set up partnerships with fundamental research institutes?

A.L.: Yes, absolutely. We have a partnership with Tufts University, which specializes in WASH issues in humanitarian contexts. We have also just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Johns Hopkins University for all operational research on cholera responses. There is a lot of empirical work being done in the field of WASH. The idea is to question these approaches and see if we can gain efficiency. For example, during a cholera epidemic, homes are systematically disinfected within a radius of 50 to 100 meters. We need to ask ourselves why we do this, what is the impact of this action and whether there are other more adequate practices.

Who is Aude Lazzarini?

Aude Lazzarini BWAude Lazzarini is an engineer in industrial environmental engineering, specializing in urban hydraulics. After an 18-month experience with the largest French public water utility, Aude worked for 13 years as project manager and technical expert on drinking water and sanitation access projects. She has thus developed strong technical (APS/APD/hydraulic modelling) and institutional skills in setting up and optimising public drinking water and sanitation services (organisational and institutional diagnostics, Public-Private Partnerships and Public Service Delegation contracts, setting up Output-Based Aid type financing mechanisms, training and capacity building, drafting of procedure manuals, etc.), as well as in the field of social engineering (household surveys, analysis of solvent demand, IEC and social intermediation activities).

Aude has also contributed to the elaboration of several national sectoral policy documents and strategies. Since 2018, she has been in charge of the Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene unit at Solidarités International, and has specialized in the issues of access to WASH services in degraded contexts.

Aude therefore has a solid experience of the technical, economic, social and institutional issues specific to the water and sanitation sector in low and middle income countries and fragile contexts. You can find her on LinkedIn, here.