Keeping it clean: Ivorian communities getting the balance right

Published: 18 November 2013 10:15 CET

By Claire Doole in Cote d’Ivoire

Red Cross Red Crescent water and sanitation projects are having a major social impact in some of Côte d’Ivoire’s poorest communities.

After a decade of political instability, only 17 per cent of people in remote parts of Côte d’Ivoire had access to working toilets, and half of their water points lay broken. A civil war in 2011 left even these meagre levels of vital resources in disarray. Sanitation levels were poor, with open defecation widespread. Diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid were rife.

Since then, however, the IFRC and Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire have been implementing a three-year project, funded by the food multinational Nestléto help communities re-establish and maintain their own water and sanitation services so they are able to take charge of their own health.

In villages throughout Côte d’Ivoire, water and sanitation committees are being established by members of the community, taking responsibility for hygiene and waste management, supported by Red Cross Red Crescent hygiene promoters and technical experts.

Godililie, in the Divo region in south-west Côte d’Ivoire, is just one of the 65 villages benefitting from this project. “The Red Cross has helped us understand the link between hygiene and disease,” says Oboute Noe, head of Godililie’s water and sanitation committee.

“Now we are on target for our goal of one latrine per household and fewer villagers are falling ill from water-borne diseases.”

One of the more radical of the project’s techniques is the ‘community-led total sanitation’, which is sometimes more familiarly referred to as ‘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.

Hygiene promoters attend village meetings and publicly demonstrate how the proximity of open excrement to water and food supplies causes contamination and diseases.

“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. “The technique creates demand as they see open defecation is unacceptable.”

The Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire advises on the design and location of the outdoor latrines, while water and sanitation village committees draw up a plan of action for their construction and maintenance, as well as for other hygiene-promoting activities. 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.

Committees are also responsible for the maintenance of the latrines and public areas, learn to repair the local water pumps and have the authority to fine people who don’t respect the rules.

“We have fined several households,” says committee volunteer Pauline Brois Konan. “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.

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.


Perhaps this snowball effect will extent to people without access to sanitation worldwide.  While nearly 800 million people around the world are living without access to safe drinking water, three times that number lack basic sanitation. But still sanitation receives only 27 per cent of the total pool of global aid funding for water and sanitation.

We need to get the balance right between action on safe water and improved sanitation. Both water and sanitation are crucial to promote community health, resilience, and human dignity.

Read the full story in Red Cross Red Crescent magazine

Water and sanitation at IFRC