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Water & Sanitation
The project has delivered water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to 512 people living in four remote rural villages, 48% of them being women and girls, who used to carry the most burden with water- related daily tasks. All project activities were carried out in a framework that has contributed to address the inequality related to gender and disability issues.
Though Timor-Leste is one of Australia’s closest neighbours, with only 2,000 kilometres separating the two countries, the differences in sanitation and clean water access are dramatic. 353,000 of Timor- Leste’s 1.2 million people currently live without access to clean water and 663,000 people do not have a decent toilet.
Timor-Leste’s shortage of infrastructure is due mainly to the 25-year war the country experienced prior to gaining independence in 2002. Although there has been considerable improvement in services and infrastructure since the violence ended, hundreds of thousands of people still live without basic essential services.
WaterAid worked with its local partners; Fundacao Hafoun Timor Lorosa’e in Liquica and Luta Ba Futuru in Manufahi to deliver water, sanitation and hygiene in four rural villages; Poerema in Liquica and Bazar Fatin, Beramana and Laklo in Manufahi, where 100% of households have built their own toilets. WaterAid helped the community members to establish a Water User Group (WUG) and has improved the understanding of men, women and children around the importance of sanitation, hygiene, disability inclusion and gender equality.
Sustainable water solutions
Gravity flow systems continue to be the most appropriate water solution in the Manufahi and Liquica district. The gravity flow systems have now been completed in Manufahi and Liquica districts. Clean water flowing down the mountains can be directed towards the villages using a system of pipes and stored in a central tank within each community, without needing large or costly machinery. In total, these systems include 4 reservoir tanks and 18 public taps to serve 512 people from 64 households with clean water. The systems’ running costs are minimal, and only simple maintenance tasks, like cleaning filters, are required.
Water User Groups were formed for the water supply system during the preparation period, so that they could lead the community during the implementation period and beyond. WaterAid staff, local NGO partners’ staff, government outreach staff, and district Water User Groups association have provided various trainings and direct support to the Water User Groups to empower them to fulfil their roles. This included training about their roles and responsibilities; basic finance training including cashbook management and reporting for money collection; technical training including topics such as construction logistics, warehouse management, plumbing, repairs, operations & maintenance; and training on hygiene.
As part of the water system construction process, water sources are protected as appropriate, using measures like geotextiles to filter particles and/or fences to prevent animals from contaminating the spring. Baseline water quality testing for microbiological parameters was completed in the communities, as well as end line testing. To help the communities understand water quality and how to protect their systems, a Water Safety Planning process has also been undertaken. This is where staff help community members identify and fix threats of contamination in the system. Further water resource management activities done in conjunction with implementing partners include Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) assessments and planting of seedlings by water sources to encourage groundwater recharge.
Sanitation and hygiene solutions
To improve sanitation and hygiene in the village, WaterAid took a community-led total sanitation approach. Hygiene promotion sessions were held throughout the project to help communities learn about the importance of building and using suitable toilets and washing their hands with soap and water at critical times, including after using a toilet and before eating a meal.
All 64 households in the communities now have constructed toilets. During this period, the local government team conducted visits and verified the Open Defecation Free (ODF) status of the community. Handwashing facility types vary from tippy-tap, bamboo, to bucket depending on the available local materials and community members’ accessibility to the local market.
During this period, communities have mostly been focusing on water supply system construction. While most of the sessions on hygiene promotion were completed during the first 6-month period, in this period sessions have been run specifically for women’s groups, to discuss issues such as menstrual hygiene management, which can be challenging to discuss as an entire community. Menstrual hygiene management is a critical issue for women and adolescent girls, particularly in rural areas due to limited access to information and taboos.
These lessons are taught using films, songs, games, and visual aids. In addition to general community sessions, WaterAid also held sessions for specific groups like women, children and households without toilets. Through the sessions, communities gained a greater understanding of how disease is spread, and learn disease prevention skills.
Reducing inequalities and empowering women
Throughout all of the community sessions, WaterAid has stressed the importance of equity and inclusion so that all men and women, including the elderly, children and disabled persons, have the opportunity to have their voice heard, access WASH services and be considered in the community decision-making process.
WaterAid has used a 5-stage gender equity process for promoting dialogue between men and women around gender, disability inclusion and WASH issues. This process is designed to increase women’s confidence to participate in community discussions and decisions, and as a result Water User Groups have 50% women members, and women are well represented in key positions such as chief, treasurer, secretary, and technical positions.
Sessions on disability inclusion and awareness raising have been run with support from Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oan, a local disability organization. These sessions included discussions on correct terminology about disability, a demonstration of disability-inclusive latrine construction, and discussions on how to make tap stands accessible to ensure all community members have their needs met and to reduce stigma against people with disabilities. Embedded into the project planning and sanitation stages of the project, WaterAid’s Community Dialogue Manual was used to facilitate opportunities for culturally appropriate and safe conversations between women and men about gender roles and decision making.
Through role-play, film, games and reflection, men and women develop new understandings of men’s and women’s rights and their value within the community and households. Women are also encouraged to take on leadership roles as members of the Water User Groups. As men and women take on new responsibilities and gain new insights, communities are able to take important steps toward gender equality and inclusion.
The mountainous geography and variable climate of Timor-Leste means that during the wet season some villages are not accessible by vehicles. This meant that the work had to be carefully planned and managed to ensure the material delivery was complete before the onset of the wet season. Communities put forth their effort to help this process in many ways, for example fixing or opening temporary roads so that vehicles could have temporary access to drop construction materials. The community also assisted with transporting some materials manually when necessary.
When WaterAid and partners first began community meetings, it was difficult to get women to speak up and participate. However, throughout the various activities, including the gender equity process, women have gradually grown in confidence and now hold half of the positions on the WUG, as well as assisting with the construction itself.
Through the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) triggering campaigns, all households have now constructed their own toilets. Community-led total sanitation is an approach WaterAid uses to improve sanitation and hygiene practices in a community. It focuses on behaviour change of an entire community to end the practice of open defecation. Triggering campaigns are central to the process as ways of initiating community interest in ending open defecation and support a community-centred change that is spontaneous and long- term. Some households built basic pit latrines, which can quickly become unusable without proper maintenance or as a result of the rain. This has meant that by the end of the construction period some toilets were no longer functioning. However, later this year, the local government teams will return to the community to encourage households to climb the sanitation ladder and install improved toilets to prevent this re-occurring in the future.
The community chief, Manuel Ornai, 32 year-old father of two young children, explained that over the past decade, community members of Bazar-Fatin had to walk long distances to collect safe water from other places for domestic use. Such a situation was very stressful for them, where the men were working in their family farms, and women, like his wife, suffered the extra burden of collecting water, resulting in them having hardly any spare time. Women had to struggle to complete their domestic housework, prepare meals or coffee for their family or guests, and take care of their young children.
As a result of not having nearby water access, it was common to see children in his community not taking a bath before going to school.
Most parents did not want their children to walk alone to the natural spring or river to take a bath because it is not considered safe for children. In addition, many residents did not have toilets: whether elderly people or children, all of them used to go in the bush area or pigs’ nest.
Manuel said that the community members are very pleased to have water access around their houses and this means a lot to them, particularly to the women and children. He said: “This means we can use the toilet. We can also stop walking miles to collect water like we used to”. The project has inspired children to have and to use toilets, as well as to use the handwashing facilities to wash their hands before having meals. Children are now able to take a bath by themselves and are encouraged to look after their personal hygiene.
The communities agreed that households would provide monthly contributions to operation and maintenance of the systems. This enables the Water User Groups to operate and perform minor maintenance to the system such as identifying problems when the systems break, purchasing spare parts and repairing the systems. For the Manufahi communities the contribution is $0.25 per household per month, and for Liquica it is $0.50 (the average monthly salary in Timor-Leste is US$225).
You are more than welcome to visit the project. Please contact WaterAid directly.