Hygiene behavior change in Savar

Jul 11, 2013

Hand washing session in a community. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh.

Collaboration between communities, municipal authorities and project partners to raise awareness on health, environmental and menstrual hygiene in poor urban communities throughout Bangladesh has led to an increase in pro-poor budget allocations in Savar Municipality, ensuring continuous funding to better living conditions and health situation of poor households.

Lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation in Bangladesh are a major cause for diseases, such as acute respiratory infections and diarrhea, leading to thousands of deaths per year, especially among chil-dren. According to UNICEF, most of the seven million people now living in urban slums throughout the country have no access to safe water, sanitary latrines, proper waste disposal systems and adequate sewer drainage.

With one of the highest urbanization rates in Asia, the situation is continuously worsening for an increasing number of urban poor in Bangladesh. Low levels of awareness of health, environmental and menstrual hygiene combined with cultural taboos aggravate the effects of limited access to water and sanitation services. Poor households drink and cook with unsafe water from ponds, ditches or shallow wells, which in turn results in outbreaks of various water-borne diseases. Even if available, hygienic latrines are often not used due to limited awareness of the benefits. Expenditures for hygiene products such as soap are often not a priority for poor households. For many adolescent girls and women menstrual hygiene is an issue due to lack of privacy and traditional beliefs.

Many efforts by various organizations are aiming at the betterment of water and sanitation services in Bangladesh. In that context, the Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR) project partnered with UNICEF and Practical Action Bangladesh to carry out capacity building, coaching and monitoring of UPPR front line staff and core trainer groups on hygiene behavioral change in 23 towns throughout the country, from October 2012 to June 2013.

In order to maximize sustainability of the intervention, the project designed the approach and tailored awareness materials on five key issues (namely safe water, sanitation, hand washing, and environmental and menstrual hygiene) to the needs of urban communities. The approach allows communities through Community Development Committees (CDCs) and poor community representatives to identify priority areas and interventions, and take the lead in implementing these, while at the same time ensuring participation of local policy-makers for them to understand and address community needs in municipal plans and budgets.

Savar Municipality was one of the towns benefitting from the project activities. Practical Action Bangladesh together with the UPPR Savar team trained community members and local government staff in order to review the Community Action Plans (CAPs) and complete hygiene maps for their neighborhoods.

Extensive hygiene campaigns including the distribution of hygiene behavior change materials took place. In June 2013, a regional evaluation workshop was held for CDC representatives and municipality officials from eight target towns to share experiences and lessons-learned, and agree on a way forward for the activities initiated through the project.

Following extensive deliberations, the Mayor of Savar Municipality, Alhajj Abdul Kader, proposed to include an allocation for the implementation of hygiene-promoting activities at the CDC-level in the 2013/14 municipal budget in order to improve the health situation of the poor community. Subsequently, a lump sum amount of one lakh (BDT 100,000) was approved by the city corporation/Pourashava for ‘Hygiene Behavior Changes’ as part of the annual budget.

In addition to the increase in health, environmental and menstrual hygiene awareness for the house-holds/individuals that have been reached through the project, the allocation of funds for hygiene activities in the municipal budget of Savar Municipality will continue to improve the hygiene and health situation of the poor urban communities. Awareness of (local) policy makers is a key condition to ensure sustainability of poverty reduction activities through increases in pro-poor allocations in government budgets. In that context, the applied approach provides a forum for dialogue between communities and policy-makers, linking citizens’ needs to policy making.