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Passing the baton Part one in a series about how humanitarian organizations can help build projects that continue in local hands after international relief workers leave.

In many villages in Côte d’Ivoire, volunteers help communities create sanitation maps that help understand and pinpoint health concerns, such as places of open defecation, water sources or livestock pens. Photo: ©Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire


Keeping it clean

Water and sanitation projects are having a major social impact in some of Côte d’Ivoire’s poorest communities. But how can Red Cross Red Crescent programmes encourage local ownership and long-term viability?

Deep in Côte d’Ivoire’s countryside, marked by a rich tapestry of rice fields and plantations of cocoa and rubber trees, changes are under way in villages that have been scarred by war or overlooked by government services.

More than a decade of political instability followed by a six-month civil war in 2011 left the country’s water and sanitation system in tatters. In the villages identified by the Red Cross Society of the Côte d’Ivoire before the war, only 17 per cent had access to toilets and half of the water points were not functioning.

Red Cross Red Crescent hygiene promoters and technical experts began working in these communities using an approach known as PHAST (Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation) in which the villagers themselves set up water and sanitation committees responsible for hygiene and waste management.

The war, however, not only delayed the start of the project by ten months, it also made it more difficult to mobilize communities that were either too afraid to hold meetings due to ongoing security concerns or too mistrustful to work together.

 “Nine months ago the Red Cross helped us understand the link between hygiene and disease,” says Oboute Noe, head of the water and sanitation committee for Godililie, a village in the Divo region in south-west Côte d’Ivoire. “Now we are on target for our goal of one latrine per household and fewer villagers are falling ill from water-borne diseases.”

Godililie is one of 65 villages in the country’s west, south-west and south benefiting from a three-year project implemented by the IFRC and the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire. The food multinational Nestlé has provided US$1.48 million to fund the project, which seeks to improve health in communities where diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid are endemic.

Community-led total sanitation

In March 2012, Zakari Issa, IFRC water and sanitation delegate, added a revolutionary new technique to the project — ‘community-led total sanitation’, which is sometimes more familiarly referred to as the ‘shame and disgust’ approach because it forces communities to confront publicly problems of open defecation. It’s also part of a strategy that aims to encourage communities to adopt hygiene and sanitation as their own issue, not something imposed from the outside.

“I had to adapt to the realities on the ground and change the way we worked in order to ensure ownership and long-term viability,” explains Issa.

At community meetings convened by the village chief, the hygiene promoters facilitate a series of activities during which villagers draw a map showing their houses, existing latrines and where people defecate in the open.

Then, the promoters calculate the amount of excrement produced over a year and the cost of water-borne diseases. Villagers then go on a ‘walk of shame’ to the areas of open defecation before the hygiene promoters graphically show the link between excrement and food and water contamination.

“The community is so ashamed and disgusted that they immediately want to build latrines,” says Marie Louise N’takpe, a hygiene promoter for 11 villages in Divo, a region hard hit by the civil war and with poor social cohesion. “The technique creates demand as they see open defecation is unacceptable.”


Often, important solutions need to be low-tech and inexpensive, such as this water source for hand washing, provided by the National Society and the IFRC.
Photo: ©Claire Doole/IFRC

The Côte d’Ivoire Red Cross advises on the design and location of the outdoor latrines while villagers draw up a plan of action for their construction and maintenance, as well as for other hygiene-promoting activities such as encouraging hand-washing and raising household drying racks for kitchen utensils away from animals or from the ground.

Many of the villages involved in the project have since been declared by the authorities as ‘open-defecation free’, marking a major cultural change in behaviour. Jacques Bi Kouassi, vice-president of the youth committee for Jbkro village in Gagnoa region, says he is proud when he can point his many visitors to his latrine and not to a patch outside.

Taking ownership

The project’s long-term viability will only be possible when villages take ownership and responsibility. This is being done as communities choose members of water and sanitation committees, which organize the construction and maintenance of household latrines, promote village hygiene and ensure rubbish is put in covered pits and courtyards are swept. Anyone who does not respect the rules can be fined.

 “We have fined several households,” says Pauline Brois Konan, responsible for keeping an area of Jbkro tidy. “We put the money in a bank account so we can buy cleaning materials.”
Volunteers with the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire carry out spot checks once a week to see how well the community is operating on its own before its technicians organize the construction of latrines and hand-washing facilities for the local school.

Committee members also learn to repair water pumps, some of which have stood idle for more than 20 years. One reason is that over the years, different models of pumps have been installed by numerous international organizations from different countries, making the supply or purchase of spare parts extremely difficult. In response, the ICRC and IFRC successfully encouraged the government to enact nationwide standards on pump installations.

Most importantly, it’s critical that communities feel they themselves own the pump — that they are the ones who can and must maintain the service. This is not the case in many places where international organizations have installed pumps, says IFRC water and sanitation expert Robert Fraser.

“Communities often say that it is Oxfam’s or World Vision’s pump rather than seeing it as their own,” he says, “so that when the organization leaves and it breaks down they don’t feel they have the authority or the skills to repair it.”

To make sure infrastructure is maintained, Côte d’Ivoire Red Cross technicians train a member of the water and sanitation committee to repair the village pump in the event of a future breakdown and provide a toolkit so the committee member can also earn some extra money repairing pumps in neighbouring villages.

“I keep half of what I earn from repairing pumps elsewhere and the rest is to pay for spare parts for future repairs to our pump,” explains Yves Dorange Zebi from Godililie. Zebi is also responsible for collecting the monthly subscription of 200 CFA francs (US$0.41) agreed by the community for drawing drinking water from the pump. The money collected also goes into a bank account for future repairs.

Greater expectations

This kind of pay-for-service model is difficult to impose during the first phase of emergency operations, but it is becoming more common in the recovery phase after an emergency or in the kind of post-conflict, development-oriented projects now under way in Côte d’Ivoire’s villages.

While it may seem strange for humanitarian organizations to ask people to pay for water they provide, the money stays in local hands and provides a resource for pump repairs. “If they are paying, there is ownership, they will have higher expectations,” says Fraser. “They’ll ask, ‘I’m paying for this, why isn’t it fixed?’”

The approach doesn’t work in all communities, he adds. Money collection can also cause mistrust in some communities and the decision to collect money must be taken on a case-by-case basis.

“I had to adapt to the realities on
the ground and change the way we
worked in order to ensure ownership
and long-term viability.”

Zakari Issa, IFRC water and
sanitation delegate

Experience in other countries shows some encouraging results, as well as many challenges. A ‘look back’ study on the sustainability of water and sanitation projects in the Mount Darwin area of Zimbabwe showed that after two years, there were widespread improvements in hand-washing and other important hygiene practices. Local water committees also continued to function with a wide range of activities. The practice of cash contributions, however, was still spotty, with most communities taking a reactive approach, raising money once their pump had broken down.

A successful exit strategy

Building in part on the lessons learned in places such as Zimbabwe, the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire last year introduced local, regional and national steering committees to facilitate its exit strategy from the communities, and to ensure the authorities could give input and see what had been achieved.

“In some of the villages there were problems of leadership, but most have been resolved and I am confident the project will be viable in the long term,” says Mathieu Lago, deputy chief administrator for Divo.

At the end of the project in October 2013, the local steering committee — made up of the village chief and representatives from each ethnic group — will continue to supervise the water and sanitation committee.

A Red Cross volunteer will check that the sanitation projects are working well.
“I shall visit each village once every two months to see if the pump is working and to encourage the different committees to keep the momentum going,” says Hervé Vilard Zama Attebi, Red Cross volunteer for the Divo region.

Some communities are well on the way to sustainability. In addition to the requisite school hygiene club, the village of Jbrko has created an association to keep the village tidy.
“We now have 86 children from 7 to 18 years of age who sweep the village twice a week,” notes Aimé Cedric Koffi Konan, a young tailor who set up the association and gave the children T-shirts emblazoned with the words: “Don’t dirty my environment”.

The village also plans an annual Red Cross day where they will run cleaning and sports competitions. Meanwhile, the track leading to the new school latrines now boasts the name of Red Cross Street.

The signs for long-term viability are encouraging, although there are a handful of larger villagers where it has been difficult to mobilize the whole community.

“If in a couple of years’ time we find that 75 per cent of the villages have kept the momentum in sustaining water and sanitation facilities, we can consider it  a real success, given the country is still suffering the consequences of war,” adds IFRC’s Zakari Issa.

Volunteers help organize community members to form water and sanitation committees that engage in numerous tasks, from construction and maintenance of household latrines to promotion of hygiene, rubbish removal and the sweeping of courtyards and public areas.
Photo: ©Claire Doole/IFRC

Scaling up

The success of the water and sanitation project has improved the visibility of local branches of the Red Cross in remote rural areas and boosted recruitment, with many villagers becoming volunteers. “We hope this project will now have a snowball effect and we can expand it to neighbouring villages and areas of the country,” says Monique Coulibaly, president of the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire. She adds that the National Society’s local office, which had little expertise in water and sanitation, is now considered a leading light in the country.

In the farming communities of Côte d’Ivoire, the project continues to convey a sense of solidarity and social cohesion fragmented after years of instability and conflict.
“Thanks to the Red Cross we are better organized as a community and better able to achieve other development goals,” says Jacques Kouassi Koame, a member of the Jbkro steering committee. “We have been put on the map and are now lobbying the authorities for a health clinic and electricity in our village to finally bring us into the 21st century.”

Claire Doole
Claire Doole is a freelance journalist based in Geneva, Switzerland.

National Society timeline

150 years of humanitarian action

Red Cross of Monaco
3 March 1948


The Gambia Red Cross Society
1948 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 1 October 1966.


Zambia Red Cross Society
1949 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 22 April 1966.


Tanzania Red Cross National Society
1949 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 7 December 1962.


Jamaica Red Cross
1948 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 9 July 1964.


Saint Lucia Red Cross
16 March 1949


Singapore Red Cross Society
30 September 1949 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 6 April 1973.


Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross       15 July 1949 as part of the British Red Cross committee. Independent since 15 May 1984.


Red Cross of the Republic of San Marino
8 October 1949


Belize Red Cross Society
1950 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 18 August 1983.


Cyprus Red Cross Society
1950 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 1 November 1969. Recognized by the ICRC 23 February 2012; pending formal decision at 2013 General Assembly.

Lesotho Red Cross Society
1950 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 17 November 1967.


The Solomon Islands Red Cross
1951 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 15 July 1983.


Republic of Vietnam Red Cross
27 October 1951 (South Vietnam (ceased to exist in 1976)).


Burkinabe Red Cross Society (Burkina Faso)
1952 as part of the French Red Cross. Independent since 31 July 1961.


German Red Cross (East Germany)
23 October 1952. Reunited with German Red Cross 3 January 1991.


Malta Red Cross Society
1952 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 24 October 1991.


Samoa Red Cross Society
1952 as part of the New Zealand Red Cross. Independent since 1 January 1983. 


Fiji Red Cross Society
1954 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 27 September 1971.


Somali Red Crescent Society
1954 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 27 April 1963.


Lao Red Cross
1 January 1955


Cambodian Red Cross Society
18 February 1955


Algerian Red Crescent
11 January 1956


Grenada Red Cross Society
1955 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 21 August 1981.


Tunisian Red Crescent
7 October 1956


The Sudanese Red Crescent
30 October 1956


Ghana Red Cross Society
1 October 1957


Libyan Red Crescent

5 October 1957

Moroccan Red Crescent
24 December 1957


Dominica Red Cross Society
28 January 1958


Yemen Red Crescent Society
1958 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 16 July 1970.


Togolese Red Cross
26 February 1959


Red Cross of Benin
July 1959


The Barbados Red Cross Society
17 February 1960 as part of the British Red Cross. Independent since 31 July 1969. 

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the timeline



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