Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS), Government of the Netherlands / Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN)
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)
Department for International Development (DFID), Government of the UK and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australian Government under the strategic partnership arrangement (SPA)
The first phase of BRAC’s WASH programme, operating in 150 sub-districts (now 152, due to two sub-districts each being split in half in 2013), was funded by the government of the Netherlands government for five years. The second phase of the programme (WASH II), which targets more isolated populations in an additional 25 sub-districts along with the original 150, is funded by the Netherlands government, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Through the support of the SPA, the programme started work in 73 additional sub-districts in 2012.
In 2014, charity: water, a non-profit organization based in New York City, USA, started funding work in 250 secondary schools in rural areas of Chittagong and Khulna to provide separate boys’ and girls’ latrines and safe drinking water supply for the students. Also in 2014, Splash, an international NGO based in Seattle, USA, started working with BRAC WASH in urban schools to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene education among the poorest children in Dhaka and Chittagong cities.
IRC is an international think-and-do tank that works with governments, NGOs, entrepreneurs and people around the world to find long-term solutions to the global crisis in water, sanitation and hygiene services. At the heart of its mission is the aim to move from short-term interventions to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services.
IRC has been a BRAC WASH partner since the programme began in 2006. The collaboration has evolved into a partnership based on mutual trust and respect between the two groups, their roles and input. IRC is currently contributing to several aspects of the BRAC WASH programme, including monitoring and documentation.
World Toilet Organization
Founded in 2001, the World Toilet Organization (WTO) is a non-profit committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide. WTO empowers individuals through education, training and building local marketplace opportunities to advocate for clean and safe sanitation facilities in their communities. Breaking the silence on the sanitation crisis is at the heart of WTO's efforts. BRAC WASH and WTO became partners in 2013.
American Standard & RFL Plastics Limited
In 2013, the plumbing-fixture company, American Standard, joined forces with BRAC and other NGOs to research, develop, and distribute the SaTo pan – a pioneering sanitary toilet pan that is easy to use and inexpensive to produce. The aim of the project was to create a pan which incorporates local bathroom practices, and effectively reduces the transmission of diseases. The pans are now locally produced by RFL Plastics, and provided at a subsidized cost for BRAC WASH supported rural sanitation centres.
Toilet Board Coalition
BRAC is a member of the Toilet Board Coalition, which is a global, business-led coalition of leading companies, investors, sanitation experts and non-profit organisations who have come together to accelerate innovative market-based solutions that deliver sanitation at scale, to those who need it most.
BRAC WASH is member of several other alliances that are active in the sector:
National Sanitation Task Force (Bangladesh)
Policy Support Unit (Bangladesh)
Local Consultative Group Bangladesh (LGC)
WatSan Committee at district, sub-district and union levels
Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)
Freshwater Action Network (FANSA BD)
Gender and Water Alliance (GWA)
Innovative activities have been undertaken to develop a sustainable and scalable model of operation that delivers cost-effective sanitation services and technology. BRAC WASH looks into new horizons and focuses on innovation and development of learning tools to further improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its activities. The programme has taken on several different action research projects in this regard.
Reuse of faecal sludge as organic fertiliser
All over Bangladesh pit latrines are filling up, and the waste is being dumped unsystematically. The WASH programme has taken on this challenge in order to avert a probable environmental issue resulting from it. A team from the programme has been exploring various ways to solve this matter. The most reasonable solution is reusing the pit content as organic fertiliser. The study has covered seven climatic zones of Bangladesh, and field trials have been conducted with vegetables and rice paddy to see if it is suitable for human consumption.
Microbiological analysis of the organic fertiliser was conducted in the laboratory to minimise risk of cross-contamination. In addition, essential nutrient elements have been tested in the laboratory to determine its quality and standard. Despite the lack of laboratory facilities in Bangladesh, the research team developed the testing protocol and overcame the challenges by meeting both national and WHO standards.
The key objective of this project is to identify and develop micro-entrepreneurship skills for the marketing of organic fertiliser from human faecal waste as a business model. To develop the compost business model, the project conducted surveys for market analysis to assess the entrepreneurial skills of people in rural areas and the demand for compost, in order to sell them to local farmers. Since national and WHO standards have been met, the project is going to start entrepreneurship upon approval from the concerned licensing authority.
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Feasibility study on the bioenergy project
An action research bio-energy project (Action Research on Commercially Viable Biogas System Using Fecal Sludge and other Agricultural Residues in Bangladesh) was carried out by Biosol Energy Limited on behalf of BRAC WASH. The objective was to test the commercial viability of producing biogas and organic fertilizer from faecal sludge on a large scale. Researchers tested the collection procedures for faecal sludge through the use of vacutugs in three different sub-districts of Bogra, in northern Bangladesh. It also piloted the collection of chicken manure and corn stovers. The study checked the feasability of producing 400kW of energy and estimated that it would be profitable to run a plant on that.
To ensure that customers have access to low-cost, good quality sanitation products in rural areas, especially the more remote ones, BRAC WASH undertook supply chain management. The main purpose of this chain is to facilitate better functioning of the RSCs. These are usually the primary sources of sanitation materials in rural Bangladesh. Sanitation entrepreneurs are provided with training, which emphasises on the quality of production, as well as building their capacity by focusing on book keeping, administration and marketing skills. Beyond that, much effort is taken to strengthen linkages between communities and RSCs as well as the local government institutions (LGIs).
The availability of sanitation entrepreneurs is crucial for an effective and sustainable programme. Thus supply chain analysis has been put in place to identify gaps, and to test current and future demands. It is a mechanism to check if the supply meets demand and prepare policies accordingly.
Qualitative information system
In order to see the real impact of the WASH programme, BRAC and IRC have jointly developed and applied the qualitative information system (QIS) to measure the progress achieved in terms of outcomes. QIS quantifies qualitative process indicators, such as participation and inclusiveness, and outcome indicators, such as behavioural change, with the help of progressive scales (or ‘ladders’). Each step on the ladder has a short description, called a mini-scenario, which describes the situation for a particular score. The data is collected on smartphones by trained quality controllers. Further information on QIS is available here.
WASHCost is a way for BRAC WASH to analyse expenditures, service delivery, and the outcomes achieved as a result of those services. It allows for a financial sustainability check by taking into account all aspects of a service, from initial construction to ongoing maintenance and eventual replacement. This approach helps to improve targeting future investments by assessing past performances. Moreover, it is a way to monitor the services delivered over time, thus resulting in a better value for money. Life cycle cost approach (LCCA) is a part of WASHCost project; it helps to calculate the life span and a better understanding of each service.
Identifying the sustainable and affordable water source(s) is one of the main objectives of this study. Water collection is one of the major challenges due to the distance of water source. Since rural areas are rapidly adopting an urban setup, the necessity of safe drinking water is also increasing. It has therefore, become an urgent need to understand the true costs (capital expenditure, recurrent expenditure, capital maintenance expenditure) of existing water sources.
Ensuring proper sanitation in rural schools is still a challenge. Access to safe water and provision of proper sanitation in schools are as important to acquire a quality education as books and pencils. Moreover, schools are an excellent platform for hygiene education and the learning of overall proper hygiene practices, such as handwashing, drinking safe water, and using hygienic latrines. BRAC WASH promotes hygiene education in all the schools in the programme’s areas. Additionally, the programme helps provide separate latrines for girls in secondary schools, since most girls reach their menstruating age during this time. For better management and maintenance of the facilities, school WASH committees and student brigades work in more than 5,600 secondary schools. Additionally, the schools are encouraged to create a fund to meet water and sanitation-related expenses.
Separate sanitation facilities for girls
The lack of separate latrines for girls and menstrual hygiene facilities in secondary schools were major factors in disproportionate rate of absence and dropout of adolescent girls. To address this issue, WASH aims to convince the secondary school authorities to provide separate latrines that have adequate water and waste disposal facilities for girls. As a result, more than 5,600 secondary schools throughout Bangladesh have constructed separate toilet facilities for girls since 2008. These schools have two toilets and washbasins which were installed through a cost-sharing basis.
Teachers at these schools hold regular sessions on menstrual hygiene, which were initially conducted by the programme staff. Sanitary napkins are now kept in schools in case of emergencies and girls can use them whenever necessary. They can also purchase BRAC’s sanitary napkins from their teachers, at a much lower cost than the commercially branded products. Moreover, aside from the cost difference, BRAC has found that many girls are more comfortable with buying napkins from the school rather than at the market.
Boys’ latrines and other new initiatives
Identifying the need for boys’ latrines in schools as well, BRAC WASH recently started providing separate latrines for boys along with pipe water systems in schools in rural areas. The programme has also started working in 71 urban schools to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene education for the poorest children in the cities of Dhaka and Chittagong.
School WASH committee
To ensure sustainability of the WASH facilities in schools, school WASH committees comprised of 14 members are formed in each school, with the headmaster as chairperson and a female teacher as member secretary. In order to represent all stakeholders, members include teachers, parents, representatives from the school management committee, and the school cleaner. The committee meets on a monthly or a bimonthly basis to review activities, including latrine use and maintenance. The overall responsibility of the committee is managing, maintaining and mobilising funds for the school’s sanitation.
In addition to the school WASH committees, student brigades are established in these schools for better management and maintenance of the facilities. Each student brigade consists of 24 students, selected from classes 6 to 9. They receive a three-day long residential training along with their teachers. Student brigades are responsible for proper usage and maintenance of latrines as well as the overall cleanliness of the school premises. They also carry out WASH promotion activities with full participation from other students.
Training of teachers and hygiene lessons
In order to sustain good hygiene practices, WASH conducts hygiene sessions through school teachers on a monthly basis. One male and one female teacher from each school are trained on WASH activities and teaching methodology. The teachers are provided with specially designed flip charts and posters in order to educate their students on health and hygiene issues. They develop an action plan for effective implementation of and follow-up on WASH activities, and are assisted by BRAC’s WASH staff when required.
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Installation of water supply systems and sanitation facilities are not enough to improve people’s health – good hygiene practices are essential to serve that purpose. BRAC WASH adopted a number of practical approaches to promote hygiene messages that are based on socioeconomic and hydrogeological conditions, culture and existing practices. Cluster meetings conducted by field staff raise awareness on the use of safe water, hygienic latrines and good hygiene practices through the use of various communication tools. Imams (Muslim leaders) of mosques are trained to promote hygiene activities to reach out to people through religion. Local folk media and popular theatre teams are used to deliver crucial messages from the WASH programme to communities by incorporating hygiene issues in their drama scripts.
Cluster meetings are held separately for men, women, adolescent boys and girls, and children to spread hygiene education at all levels. These meetings are conducted by designated field staff, and key messages on good hygiene behaviour are shared. To make sure that all the households in a given village receive the information conveyed, the meetings are organised in small groups and the participation of members from each invited household is ensured.
Moreover, as each of these groups play different roles in the society, reaching out to them separately helps behavioural change messages to be communicated in more effective ways. Messages are tailored to what each group is most interested in, eg, appealing to mothers by informing them of the benefits of good hygiene on their children’s health. Likewise, as children can be very effective carriers of messages to their families, it is crucial to have separate sessions to create awareness among them.
Training of imams
As the majority of the Bangladeshi population is Muslim, reaching out to the rural population through religion is an effective means of spreading hygiene messages. Mosques have a significant influence on the religious rural population. Thus, khutba (sermon) guidebooks have been developed based on verses from the Quran and Hadith that refer to cleanliness and hygiene. More than 18,000 imams, who are key religious and opinion leaders in rural Bangladesh, have been trained on hygiene promotion, and are delivering these messages during the Friday prayers.
Menstrual hygiene management
Menstrual hygiene is a topic surrounded by taboos and superstitions, and a matter which is often avoided in rural Bangladesh. Practices such as using rags instead of sanitary napkins still take place, and superstitious beliefs, such as eating less during menstruation, still exist. The programme has taken several steps to improve these issues. BRAC’s health volunteers sell sanitary napkins door to door. BRAC’s sanitary napkin production centre (one of its social enterprises) has been supplying affordable, biodegradable napkins since 1999, to meet the public health needs of poor women and girls in rural areas.
In BRAC’s WASH programme areas, school teachers hold regular sessions on menstrual hygiene, which were initially conducted by the programme staff. The programme assistants discuss menstrual hygiene issues when they hold cluster meetings for women and adolescent girls. They also educate women and girls on issues like eating healthy and iron-rich food during their periods. Women who cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins, and still have to use rags, are taught to wash the rags thoroughly with soap and dry them under sunlight. Through these meetings, women and adolescent girls not only learn, but also speak up about menstrual hygiene issues, something that was nearly unthinkable just a few years ago.
Mobilising health volunteers, local folk media and popular theatre teams
Among BRAC’s health volunteers, more than 14,000 have been trained to deliver crucial WASH messages. In addition, local folk media and popular theatre teams are used to deliver these messages to communities by incorporating hygiene issues in their drama scripts, which have been found to be effective among rural populations.
Tea stall sessions
Since 2014, regular hygiene promotion sessions are taking place in tea stalls to reach those men who are not being reached through the cluster meetings. Experience shows that these men are either not interested in participating in cluster meetings or are unable to attend due to their working hours. Tea stalls have been proven to be effective spaces to reach out to them as most men frequent these shops after work. It is essential to ensure men’s participation to meet the programme objectives since they are, in many instances, the decision makers of the household expenditures and often provide a significant part of the household income.
BRAC WASH raises awareness on sanitation issues, which creates demand among the community for facilities such as hygienic latrines and associated hardware. The programme supports local entrepreneurs by providing loans to existing privately-owned sanitation shops, or rural sanitation centres (RSCs).Experts from BRAC and the government’s Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) are also providing training on production technology to local entrepreneurs, enabling the latter to produce quality latrine parts. BRAC WASH helps provide technical assistance to those who can afford and are willing to construct latrines, ensuring proper design and site selection. Loans are provided to those who cannot afford to pay the full cost of hygienic latrines. Two-pit latrine construction materials, including superstructures and mini water tanks, are offered to ultra poor families free of cost.
Rural sanitation centres
BRAC WASH has helped establish RSCs in each union to increase access to latrine materials in remote areas. BRAC WASH provides orientation to all latrine producers in its programme area in order to support more suppliers. Till date, more than 2,400 rural sanitation entrepreneurs have received loans and more than 5,500 have received orientation from BRAC WASH. Loan support of BDT 10,000-15,000 is provided to one RSC from each union to increase access to production centres and ensure standard quality of latrine materials.
Loans and grants
The programme makes provisions for families who cannot afford to pay the full price of a hygienic latrine at a time. Loans have been provided to more than 214,000 families. Furthermore, WASH has helped mobilise access to grants from the government’s annual development programme for around 1.3 million ultra poor families.
BRAC WASH is unique in the national water and sanitation sector because it provides grants to the ultra poor for building two-pit latrines. In addition, it also provides superstructures along with the latrine materials, since it was found that when the ultra poor were provided with materials for building latrines without provisions for the superstructure, they tended not to build the latrines and instead used the materials for other purposes.
Since 2008 BRAC WASH has been providing two-pit latrines instead of single pit. The size of each pit allows it to last two years for a family of four to five. The two pits can be used in rotation; when one fills up, the other one can be used, while content of the filled up pit is digested into organic fertiliser for the next 18 months. This approach ensures good hygiene practices, along with a method for sustainable management of human waste which has been a significant issue till now.
Conversion of unhygienic latrines to hygienic latrines
In households with unhygienic latrines, instead of entirely replacing the latrines, adding a water seal or replacing a broken one converts it into a hygienic latrine. In very simple terms, a hygienic latrine is one that separates faecal waste from human contact. This can be achieved by means of a water seal, such as a U-shaped siphon that is partially filled with water underneath the pan, which keeps away flies, mosquitoes and odour.
To increase access to safe water, BRAC WASH undertakes a range of activities. This includes establishing water safety plans, installing deep tube wells and other alternative water options, and testing water quality. Arsenic and saline-prone areas are prioritised when creating these provisions.
Deep tube well
Safe water supply is a critical issue due to highly arsenic-contaminated groundwater in Bangladesh. As a result, the demand for it is much higher than its supply. Deep tube well is the most suitable safe water option as it is affordable and user-friendly. In view of this, BRAC WASH has provided more than 6,000 deep tube wells in Bangladesh. Each tube well covers 36 households on average. In order to ensure sustainability and ownership in the community, 10-12 per cent of the cost is shared by the community members.
Laboratory analysis of the quality of water is done before installing the tube wells and after handing them over to the community. If the test shows arsenic contamination, then the tube well is sealed off and people are restricted from using the water for drinking and cooking.
BRAC is actively involved in educating the community on water safety; and in addition, BRAC WASH also keeps a record of the number of tube wells installed by the government and other agencies to avoid work duplication in BRAC WASH programme areas.
Two-headed and three-headed tube wells
Another BRAC WASH initiative is the installation of two-headed and three-headed tube wells. They are installed so that larger population groups can access safe water from the same tube well. In rural Bangladesh, women are usually the ones who collect water, sometimes travelling long distances every day to obtain water for drinking and household chores. The two-headed and three-headed tube wells make their water collection process easier and less time-consuming. Once these tube wells are installed, the community receives an orientation on maintenance, and a water management committee is set up locally.
Piped water supply systems
BRAC WASH constructs piped water supply systems in areas where deep tube wells are difficult to install, such as hilly areas. This type of water supply system makes use of one safe aquifer which delivers water to the households via an elevated water tank. Piped water supply systems also help address problems with high arsenic content and salinity in shallow aquifers. To date, WASH has set up nine piped water supply systems.
A trained caretaker is hired at each supply system to ensure its smooth operation. A water management committee is set up for each piped water supply system to oversee the maintenance and monitor technical disturbances, sometimes hiring local mechanics when needed and bearing the expenses for repairs. These committees collect a monthly tariff from each family served by the system. The people living in extreme poverty are exempted from this payment and in addition to that, there are standpipes available for their usage.
Pond sand filter
Pond sand filters are an efficient and low-cost option, as they have the ability to purify pond water and allow a major portion of an area to be served based on the size of the ponds. The WASH programme has installed 35 pond sand filters so far, allowing access to safe water in saline and arsenic-affected areas.
Arsenic removal filter
During the first phase of the programme, BRAC WASH provided 647 household-based arsenic removal filters to arsenicosis patients as well as to people living in arsenic-affected areas. These filters were provided to meet the immediate demand for safe water, which is a critical necessity for people living in those areas. Known as Sono filters, these were invented by Dr Abul Hussam, a chemistry professor, using composite iron matrix (CIM) as the active arsenic removal component.
Active since 2006, the BRAC WASH programme provides hygiene education and increased access to water and sanitation in 250 sub-districts of Bangladesh. It also complements efforts of the Bangladesh government in its water and sanitation interventions. As of December 2015, the programme has currently provided access to hygienic latrines for 41.6 million people, safe water options for 2.3 million people, and hygiene education to an estimated 13.9 million people per year in communities and 2.9 million people per year in schools on average.
Village WASH committees
The programme helped form village WASH committees (VWCs) in each village it operates in, thus giving the community an independent role to mobilise and keep track of WASH-related changes in their areas. Each committee is made up of 11 members – six women and five men – representing all stakeholder groups. Each VWC conducts bimonthly meetings to assess the existing water and sanitation situation of the entire village and identify issues that need urgent action. They select sites for community water sources, collect money and monitor the latrine usage and maintenance. The committee members are responsible for identifying ultra poor households in their communities that need BRAC’s assistance and grants from Bangladesh government’s Annual Development Programme. The committee members are also responsible for selecting poor households which qualify for microloan support to install hygienic latrines and tube well platforms. To strengthen the capacity of VWCs, two key members from each committee (one woman and one man) are provided with leadership training at a BRAC facility. To date, more than 65,000 VWCs have been formed. Through these committees, women’s empowerment is also addressed by recognising women members through their voluntary contribution for society.
Extension and expansion of WASH
The BRAC WASH programme began in 2006 in 150 sub-districts, funded by the Government of the Netherlands. The programme started its second phase (WASH II) in October 2011, in 20 new sub-districts of Bangladesh which were challenging and expensive areas in terms of implementation. Meanwhile it continues working in the existing 150 sub-districts from the first phase (WASH I) to ensure that the gains made during that phase are sustained. Moreover, five more sub-districts were included due to low sanitation coverage, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Since July 2012, the third phase (WASH III) began to expand its working areas in 73 new sub-districts under the strategic partnership arrangement (SPA) with DFID and DFAT.
In 2013, two sub-districts among the old 150 were each split into half and two new ones were formed. As a result, the total number of programme areas covered by WASH now stands at 250 sub-districts.
The final report for the first and second phases of the BRAC WASH Programme can be found here.
Please find a list of publications from the BRAC WASH programme here.
For more information onf how BRAC addresses gender and equity can be found here.
More information on village WASH committee guidelines and training, click here.