SHARE’s research hits the radio waves
On the evening of 26th October 2014, the latest findings from several SHARE-funded research projects in Malawi were the subject of a dynamic debate that was broadcasted live on Zodiak radio station.
Sanitation and hygiene: issues of national importance
Researchers, Government of Malawi officials, policy makers, practitioners and members of the public all turned out in Lilongwe for the‘Urban Talks: Stimulating the Momentum on Sanitation and Hygiene Delivery’ to hear about and discuss the fantastic work that SHARE-funded researchers have been doing across Malawi. With nearly 100 people in one room, and many more calling into the radio show to offer their thoughts and raise salient questions, it was clear that sanitation and hygiene are issues of national importance.
SHARE research discussed
Owen Lupeska, a veteran journalist from Zodiak Broadcasting Station, opened the Urban Talks by outlining the challenges facing the sanitation and hygiene sector in Malawi. SHARE-funded researchers from Malawi Polytechnic, Chancellor College, Mzuzu University, Bunda College and the National Commission for Science and Technology then offered their recommendations for overcoming these difficulties based on the findings of their projects that had investigated:
• Handwashing with soap
• Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in schools
• Pit emptying and faecal sludge management
• Private sector participation in sanitation and hygiene service delivery
• Solid waste management in cities
Amongst the recommendations made, it was suggested that a national policy on MHM in schools should be formulated, and that responsibility for solid waste management should not only lie with city councils but also with residents, businesses and service providers.
Following these presentations, the floor and phone lines were opened to the audience. A lively discussion ensued, during which a distinguished panel of experts answered questions on a wide array of issues ranging from methods for achieving behaviour change to the need for an enabling legislative/policy environment in Malawi.
The panel comprised of:
• Mr Humphreys Masuku, Ministry of Health, Government of Malawi
• Mr James Mambulu, Water and Sanitation Specialist at DFID
• Ms Ngabaghila Chatata, National Coordinator of WESNET Malawi
• Mr Wellington Mitole, Urban Programme Manager at WaterAid Malawi
• Mr Ben Cole, WASH Specialist at UNICEF
Promisingly, Mr Masuku, Deputy Director of Preventive Health Services, reassured the audience that the new Parliament was committed to formalising the existing sanitation-related legislation drafted by the previous Government. Ms Chatata, meanwhile, suggested that unifying all Government sanitation and hygiene policies, e.g. the National Sanitation Policy of 2008 and the National Handwashing Campaign of 2011/12, under one umbrella would ensure that national level policies are better integrated and that opportunities for cross-sectoral collaboration are harnessed.
The need for affordable solutions
A recurring theme in all discussions was the need for affordable solutions. Audience members emphasised that most Malawians cannot afford flush toilets and that NGOs and the Government must therefore offer alternative, demand-driven, affordable solutions if open defecation is to be reduced nationwide. Likewise, research respondents explained that soap is often considered a luxury item too valuable to be used for washing hands. They stressed that if HWWS is to become commonplace across Malawi, the price of soap must be decreased dramatically.
In a country where only 10 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation, 15 per cent still lacks access to safe water and just 45 per cent practice handwashing with soap, the Urban Talks provided an excellent forum for timely discussions on the implications of the research SHARE has been funding. The researchers were able to offer valuable insights from their projects for policymakers and practitioners engaged with sanitation and hygiene delivery across Malawi and enthusiasm for improving sanitation and hygiene was palpable amongst a wide range of stakeholders present.
One of the organisers of the talks, Florence Mvula of the Urban Research Institute, reflected:
"the talks were a wakeup call for Malawians to assess progress on sanitation and hygiene delivery. They established that to spearhead sanitation issues, Malawi requires an effective coordination system which includes all stakeholders; local authorities should develop clear procedures, systems and policies, with the support of NGOs and development partners; and individuals will need to take responsibility for their own personal hygiene and the waste they generate. Building a thorough evidence/knowledge base will be integral to policy formation and the initiation of reformative measures in Malawi".