Learning from Environmental Sustainability Training Program

“This training makes sense!”

The WASH Alliance International (WAI), a consortium of Dutch NGO’s working on Water, Sanitation and Hygiëne (WASH) programs, has setup a learning program in 2016. RAIN (a brand of Aidenvironment) is leading the environmental sustainability track, being one of the important topics included in the learning program. Goal of this track is to build capacity of partners and develop a demand driven and well-founded approach on environmental sustainability.

RAIN (a brand of Aidenvironment), in cooperation with Wetlands International and Amref, developed the training on the implementation of environmental sustainability in WASH programs. The approach has been tested during a 4-day training program in Ethiopia, Nepal and Kenya. Local NGO’s took part in these trainings, as well local government representatives and water user associations. A group of 41 people working in the WASH sector was trained on the topic of environmental sustainability. A number of 31 organisations was involved.

Learning objective: understand relations within a catchment
The most important learning objective of the environmental sustainability training is to show participants how to map and understand relevant relations within the catchment. These water relations are multi-dimensional: in place – up/downstream – in time (history, now, future), between different water resources and water users, or different NGO’s working in the same catchment. Often WASH programs lack to assess these relations. For example, constructing pit latrines, not assessing the effect on the water quality (Figure 1), when these are emptied in a nearby gully, or constructing boreholes, depleting aquifers, placing communities at serious risk: what happens if the borehole dries up, especially when it’s the only source of water during the dry season? Too often, a lot of interventions do not provide a solution for the next generation, while planning for environmental sustainability does so.

Keep it simple
When performing environmental sustainability assessments in WASH program planning the following principal questions need to be answered:

  • Where is the water coming from and where is it going? (related to quantity / water)
  • What pollution am I creating or finding in my project? (related to quality / sanitation)

One could argue that these principal questions are too obvious, but in order to understand complex subjects like the environment and the human impact on it, simplification is necessary.
In all 3 countries participants fully appreciated the assessment and planning of interventions in a catchment, to improve (or at least, not to deteriorate) the water availability and quality. During field exercises (Figure 2 and Figure 3) the relevance of up- and downstream relations in the catchment, the competition between water users (domestic, agriculture, livestock, nature, including wild life) and the current and future challenges related to the availability of water became clear). Tools such as:

were used to address the issues related to environmental sustainability. An important part of the training was also knowledge sharing between partners and from successful projects in other countries.

Figure 1 Group observations of (un)sustainable WASH practices affecting the environment.

A crucial ingredient

Tobias Omufwoko, Kenya country lead, evaluated the training in Kenya: “This training on environmental sustainability should be undertaken at all levels, since it is a very crucial ingredient for any meaningful WASH programming”. Participants appreciated the use of Google Earth, an important tool in the training, to assess the up- and downstream relations in a catchment and to help evaluate environmental challenges and opportunities. A participant noted: “Thanks to the preparation exercise in Google Earth the catchment area was easy to understand”. Suggestions for improvement were: to provide more background on aspects of sanitation, waste management, policies and climate change.

Figure 2 Effect of re-greening the landscape after construction of a small dam in Ethiopia.

Toolkit for 2017 program
Next steps for this learning trajectory are the development of a standardised approach for environmental sustainability. The approach will have the form of a toolkit, including presentations, and exercises that can be used to train other organizations in applying the environmental sustainability method in their own programs.
Figure 3 Community interaction in the field (in Kenya) and assessment of the effect of a constructed rain water harvesting tank on the availability of water (in Ethiopia).

For more information, please contact Arnoud Keizer or Niels Lenderink.