Long Read

Looking back – the WASH SDG programme in 2020

Who would have thought that 2020 would turn out the way it did? We certainly did not and had quite some other ideas and plans in mind. In Asia, some countries were hit hard by the pandemic early on in the year, whereas others had relatively minor spreading of the virus. In Africa, infections started rising later in the year. The effects of the different lockdowns were, however, severe in most countries.

Fortunately, the WASH SDG programme, that improves access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in seven countries in Africa and Asia, continued active throughout the pandemic.

Activities advanced as much as possible whilst ensuring the safety of programme beneficiaries and staff members. Others were altered or postponed and, with additional support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Consortium was awarded additional funds to start a new programme called WASH First, specifically designed to fight COVID-19.

Looking back, there are many highlights to share from the programme. Below we outline some of them.

COVID-19 and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)

In most of the WASH SDG-countries, the programme has been involved in fighting the spread of the programme. Many programmed activities remained highly relevant in the new COVID-related context, especially those that sought to improve hygiene behaviour and practices in general, and that therefore also served to prevent the spread of the virus. All partners coordinated with local authorities to share best practices on hygiene. Partners adapted their approaches and activities to the circumstances.

Students in Belu District (Indonesia) are participating on sanitation and Menstrual Hygiene management monitoring facility in school – picture by Plan Nederland

For example, SNV organised a handwashing challenge in Indonesia (see the winning video here!) and developed and installed new handwashing stations in public places in Tanzania. In Indonesia, people with disabilities that had been making reusable menstrual hygiene cloth pads with support from Plan International, diversified their product base to include facemasks.

The WASH First programme, was launched on World Toilet Day 2020 (November 19th) with the message: access to water and sanitation is an essential first barrier against COVID-19.

‘‘During COVID-19 we are especially focusing on promoting GESI-sensitive COVID-19 prevention through audio mass awareness and campaigns. We provide and distribute hygienic materials (soap, sanitizer, face masks, bleach, etc.) for female-headed households, excluded groups and older people. In schools we are going to improve handwashing facilities. We also purchased and distributed hygiene kits for people with disabilities and women and girls.” – Fisseha Atalie, WASH SDG Project Manager for Plan International Ethiopia

Gender and social inclusion (GESI)

In 2020, a gender and social inclusion (GESI) community of practice was established as a virtual space where team members from the different sub-programmes come together and share learnings on topics related to the implementation of GESI practices in the programme. Learning clinic sessions took place on key topics such as (i) Do No Harm, (ii) disability, chronic health conditions and aging, and (iii) sanitation workers.

In addition, most sub-programmes received individual support on GESI. Teams used the tools developed in 2019 (GESI learning log, learning wheel and other tools) to plan and monitor progress of GESI practices within their sub-programmes. In the light of COVID-19, teams also discussed how each country is incorporating GESI in COVID-19 activities. Finally, in preparation for the midterm review process ongoing at the end of the year, a brief assessment was carried out to give teams some input on progress made to date to make the programme inclusion-proof and which steps could still be made to improve this during the second half of the programme.

Focusing WASH during global awareness raising days

World Water day (March 22), Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28th), World Handwashing Day (October 15th) and World Toilet day (November 19) were celebrated in many WASH SDG-countries. Often, the sub-programmes coordinated efforts with multiple Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), or celebrated them together with government agencies, to raise awareness on these topics.

In Uganda this year, the virtual conference around Menstrual Hygiene Day looked closer at the impact of COVID-19 on menstrual health. In Zambia, there was an Instagram Live Festival where issues such as menstrual products accessibility, menstrual health in schools and male involvement were discussed. Plan Indonesia, together with the National WASH Network in Indonesia, participated in an Instagram Live with Dr. Danar Wicaksono, a social media health influencer.

WASH and Menstrual Hygiene in schools

In Bangladesh, SNV launched a campaign to improve handwashing in schools, including this upbeat song (in bangla) to help embed practice amongst children (and adults) to facilitate message recall.

In Nepal, a research study was conducted by Simavi’s partner Nepal Fertility Care Centre (NFCC) to assess the knowledge, attitude and practices in menstrual hygiene of school students in Banke and Surkhet. The findings of this study will help the sub-programme make more informed, evidence based decisions when it comes to menstrual health in schools. The report will be available in early 2021.

Water testing and faecal sludge management

A notable achievement of the WASH SDG programme in Nepal has been the establishment of mini labs for water quality testing. These labs were established in all the project locations of the Nepal WASH Alliance sub-programme (Barahatal, Bheriganga, Kohalpur and Baijanath). Local entrepreneurs from the mentioned districts will be responsible for running these labs.

Child club member promoting handwashing within children in community – Picture by Plan Nederland

In Zambia, SNV worked with women entrepreneurs interested in working in faecal sludge management. Emptying latrine pits is usually seen as dirty and unattractive work. But by improving health- and working conditions, better equipment and training, the trade has become a fulfilling job.

Additionally, SNV’s webinar finding ‘gold’ in ‘poop’, inspired reflection on how to find profitable business and a livelihood opportunity in faecal sludge re-use.

Innovation fund

In 2020, the Consortium brought out a call for innovative proposals to address challenges identified by the different sub-programmes within the overarching theme “WASH in health care facilities”. At the end of the year, three projects were selected to be financed in 2021-22 through the innovation facility of the WASH SDG programme. Mainly:

  • Social accountability for Inclusive WASH in Health Care Facilities (HCFs), to be implemented in Indonesia by Yayasan Konservasi Way Seputih (YKWS).
  • Innovating safe and sustainable healthcare waste management in Nepal’s health sector, to be implemented in Nepal by Health Environment and Climate Action Foundation (HECAF360) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH).
  • Transforming four health centres into model health care facilities in Agago district through: piloting low cost water supply technologies for semi-arid areas, operation & maintenance of existing WASH facilities, smart monitoring and financial sustainability, to be implemented in Uganda by Water and Sanitation Entrepreneurs Association (WASEU) and Joint Effort to Save the Environment (JESE).

We look forward to seeing how these innovations advance in the coming years!


Some noteworthy publications were also carried out in 2020, including:

Looking forward

In 2021, both the WASH SDG programme and WASH First will continue. The Learning and Knowledge Development-component of the programme will become more prominent, and we will start distributing the lessons we have learned from working in this programme with the wider WASH sector and the general audience. The midterm review, that was postponed due to the pandemic, will take place as well, allowing the Consortium to present midline progress made to date.

Overall, we are proud of the entire WASH SDG team, including the many partner organisations in-country and the communities that we work with, as they adjusted to the new situation this year. In 2021, no doubt new challenges will lie ahead, including the pandemic that will continue to affect our daily lives for the foreseeable future. We are however confident in our ability to stay resilient and flexible, and to find solutions where needed. We wish you a happy and healthy new year.

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