Delivering WASH services in Timor-Leste

Luke Lovell and Elle Spring

16 Mar, 2018

This post forms part of ACFID’s blog series in the lead up to and following the Australian Sustainable Development Goals Summit 2018. To learn more about this series, read the introductory blog post. To learn more about ACFID’s work on the SDGs, visit the ACFID website.

If we are to deliver on the pledge contained in the SDGs 'that no one will be left behind' our actions must be truly inclusive. This must include people with disabilities. Despite estimates that up to 20 percent of people in developing countries have a disability, their needs often go overlooked.

This is true of the water and sanitation services that are at the heart of SDG 6 (ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all). These most basic services are also human rights - every person on our planet needs them to lead healthy, dignified lives. Despite the foundational nature of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to human wellbeing, people with disabilities often face additional barriers in accessing these services. This is doubly problematic – not only for the direct impact on people excluded from services, but also because we know that most of the health benefits of sanitation come from community-wide coverage. If people are excluded from access to toilets and continue to openly defecate the value of sanitation and hygiene efforts are undermined. For this reason, WaterAid and CBM Australia have a long-term partnership aiming to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to WASH.

Partnering for disability-inclusive WASH services

In Timor-Leste we met Fatima. During household surveys to understand gaps in village services, people in Fatima's community talked about having to defecate in nearby bushes due to a lack of toilets, as well as walking 200 metres to fetch untreated surface water.

Fatima, who is the wife of the Chefe (leader) of this particular village, has a physical disability which restricts her mobility. Her husband participated actively in the Community-Led Total Sanitation process to jointly plan WASH services for their village. He built a pit latrine for his household, placing a chair over the new latrine to make it more accessible for Fatima. WaterAid and local partners, having received training in inclusive infrastructure, assisted the Chefe to build an accessible water point based on universal design principles. Overall, this seemed like a positive outcome for Fatima.

However, during a follow-up visit, WaterAid’s Monitoring Officer – who had received disability inclusion training from CBM Australia – uncovered that Fatima was still unable to use the outdoor latrine due to it being placed too far from her house. Upon further investigation it was discovered Fatima had not been given the opportunity to participate in the community planning activities, resulting in infrastructure designed for her, and not with her.

To rectify this, staff visited the household over a few weeks to facilitate positive interpersonal relationships. In particular, the staff focused on encouraging the Chefe to include his wife in decision-making about the location of the latrine. This was successful, and Fatima’s latrine is now located directly at the back of her house.

Furthermore, during these follow-ups Fatima was referred to a nearby rehabilitation service where she received a prosthetic leg, which helped her mobility and independence. She was connected with a local Disabled People’s Organisation and now advocates for inclusive WASH services for people with disabilities in surrounding communities, as well as over the radio.

This has ultimately led to more inclusive outcomes, not only for Fatima, but for her family and community. Fatima can now access her water point and latrine independently; is included in meetings; and now feels more confident to participate in her community. In this way, inclusive services enable positive development outcomes for individuals and communities, beyond just access to the services themselves.

Where to next?

As we reflect on the Australian SDG Summit, we should remember Fatima's experience and the importance of the disability movement’s motto “nothing about us without us”. While Fatima’s situation was rectified, her experience demonstrates why it is essential for people with disabilities to be included in, and meaningfully participate in, community planning and decision-making. Without true inclusion the ambition of the SDGs to leave no person behind will not be achieved.

What also bears remembering from Fatima’s example is the importance of implementing the SDGs in an integrated and collaborative manner. The complexity of development challenges, in this case delivering inclusive WASH as part of achieving SDG 6, demand strong partnerships which draw on the differing capacities and experiences of multiple actors.

This post has been adapted from a submission collected by ACFID on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Australia’s Voluntary National Review on the 2030 Agenda. Australia will deliver its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) on the 2030 Agenda at the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2018. 

  • Luke Lovell and Elle Spring
    Luke Lovell and Elle Spring

    Luke is WaterAid Australia’s Policy Officer. Elle is CBM Australia’s Advocacy and Communications Advisor.


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