“Delivering services such as WASH is not necessarily going to contribute to peace-building or community cohesion on its own,” elaborates Nathaniel Mason, a research follow at Overseas Development Institute (ODI.) Rather, regions benefit from tailored delivery of services.
Government figures indicate nearly 40 percent of Nepal families lack access to a toilet. This forces millions to defecate outside and risk contracting diarrheal diseases. In 2009, a diarrhea outbreak occurred in the Far West Region. Hundreds died from infectious diseases and in response, the government began a national campaign to end open defecation. This campaign began in 2011 and aims to fulfill its mission by 2017.
The “Open Defecation Free” campaign “must be carefully crafted,” reflecting an understanding of the local political climate.
The CfBT Education Trust, Practical Action and Save the Children published a report in 2011. This report stresses the value of sanitation efforts in conflict-ridden regions. In Pakistan, those who differ in socio-political stances unite to improve conditions. Moreover, the report highlights successful campaigns in Afghanistan and South Sudan.
“Compared to education or medicine, WASH interventions, such as managing a water pump or building latrines, offer scope for greater involvement of the community,” remarks Mason.
Risks do exist, though. These interventions tend to expose the divide between the “included” and “excluded,” highlighting who benefits the most from interventions and who holds the most responsibilities. This may further tension in the community.
Mason published a 2012 literature review on WASH interventions and peace-building efforts, and cautions “careful local considerations” before assuming a relationship between the two. Effective programs research the motivations for a united effort, for this may differ from one region to the next.
Health professionals often assume a campaign requires “effective health messaging,” yet Mason cites personal safety or prestige as factors in the decision process. In regions with long-lasting conflict, citizens may perceive interventions as an opportunity to reduce tension.
For instance, Nepal landowners in regions with public defecation feel frustrated. This leads to ongoing conflict between landowners and those without toilets, according to Leela Chattar Kulung of the New Era Development Society. In this case, collaboration to end open defecation benefits both and links directly to conflict prevention.
Such collaboration encompasses more than sanitation efforts. Ben Ayers of the dZi Foundation, spotlights a united effort to ban littering in Gudel. These villages initially benefited from the “Open Defecation Free” campaign and other sanitation efforts, but continue to unite for basic health and environmental reform.
Sanitation efforts offer long-term benefits, such as enhancing individuals’ health and ties to the community. Yet these interventions require a thorough understanding of the local needs, strengths and weaknesses. In the end, tailored interventions hold the potential to secure lasting peace in volatile regions.