November 14, 2011
by John Akudago, Senior Research Associate
I took a recent trip to Burkina Faso to conduct a learning session on the WASH decision-making tool (www.washchoices.org) currently being developed by Pacific Institute. I arrived in the town of Sabtenga, a rural community located in the Northern part of Burkina Faso about 50 kilometers north of Ouagadougou.
As part of the traditional custom, visitors intending to hold meetings within the community must first report to the Chief. I arrived at his house about 300m north of the village market to find the 66 year old community chief, Sa Majesty Naba Kuliga, seated in front of his house. After welcoming us and listening to our mission, he smiled and gave blessing for the meeting. The photos below shows Naba Kuliga.
As I prepared to leave for the meeting grounds, Naba Kuliga requested a private conversation with me. Unsure of what he had to tell me, I moved back to squat before him as local culture demands. According to him, of the town’s 7 hand-pumps wells, only 4 of them functioned for a population of 4,315. “It takes over 3 hours to get water from the hand-pumps. Fighting among the women and children at the pump site is normal and a daily activity they have to undergo”. I knew 7 hand-pumps for 4,315 people translated to over 600 people per hand-pump which was still not enough compared to the standard of 300 people per hand pump. Worst of all, 3 of the hand pumps had been broken down for a very long time and were not repairable. I asked the chief why they did not have enough water. Naba Kuliga responded by saying, “When we are assisted with water or sanitation facilities, the providers forget to ask us why we need the water or toilet for and how can we use the water or the toilet to sustain the facility provided.” He asked, “how are we to survive and continue farming on three months of rainfall, especially when the rains are not regular. Not to mention, having any extra money to spend towards the maintenance of the hand-pumps.” Though they knew what to do to maintain the hand-pumps (buying part and seeking for a mechanic to repair), the problem lay in finding the means to do it.As the meeting with the community progressed, it became clear that the community had been given hygiene messages and had been educated and provided with ecological sanitation facilities, but those messages and facilities provided to them are not sustainable. The community members could not practice whatever they had learned from their educators because they lacked water to maintain personal hygiene and clean the toilets. They had no knowledge of other technologies that required less cleaning. In order to make their contributions towards sustaining the water facilities at the village, women would clear the little forest for firewood to sell and generate income. “This was not only an issue of desertification, but it forced them to be dependent on external assistance,” the village chief said. Naba Kuliga thinks if NGOs and development partners want to succeed with sustainable community WASH facilities, they must explore beyond just providing single-use water for the communities but rather engage the communities in a dialogue to understand the needs of the communities and design a facility that could take care of multiple needs. He said helping the communities to fish would promote sustainability rather than just providing the fish for them. Based on these ideas, people who were present at the learning session think empowering communities would release trapped knowledge and would promote their ability to contribute during discussions towards providing the community with water and sanitation facilities.