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November 15, 2018
Raising Awareness of the Importance of Hand-Washing and Toilets in Africa From the Grass-Roots Level: 10 Years of the Water Security Action Team

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A W-SAT initiative in Ethiopia teaches the importance of hand-washing through a song and a picture story show.

Nov. 19 is the UN-designated "World Toilet Day."

It will be the sixth World Toilet Day, and this year it has been 10 years since JICA first dispatched the Water Security Action Team (W-SAT) to support grass-roots efforts to improve Africa's water and sanitation problems. So far 260 people have been sent abroad, and their steady efforts have brought about new approaches and brought attention to JICA's initiatives in the field of sanitation and hygien. Moreover, some "graduates" of the W-SAT continue working in the field of water and sanitation.

260 people dispatched to 21 countries since the announcement at TICAD in 2008

At the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) held in Yokohama in May 2008, it was announced that Japan would dispatch personnel to contribute to improving access to safe water and sanitary conditions in Africa. In November of that year, JICA began sending members of the W-SAT overseas.

The people who became members of the W-SAT were JICA volunteers and experts who had been dispatched in sectors/categories related to regions with needs in the area of water and sanitation. They worked for the W-SAT while performing their original work. For the work of the W-SAT, a structure was put in place to provide prior training and the necessary knowledge and for members of the W-SAT to exchange information.

The original plan was to dispatch 100 people, but as of June 2018, the number of people had climbed to 260 and work was going on in 21 countries.

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The numbers of W-SAT members sent to various African countries. Out of the 260 dispatched to 21 countries, the number assigned to each is as follows: Uganda 51, Rwanda 36, Senegal 25, Ethiopia 25, Cameroon 23, Benin 19, Kenya 14, Burkina Faso 12, Niger 11, Madagascar 8, Malawi 8, Sudan 5, Ghana 4, Namibia 4, Zambia 3, Tanzania 3, South Africa 3, Mozambique 3, Gabon 1, Botswana 1 and Morocco 1.

Creating cross-disciplinary cooperation

Many cross-disciplinary initiatives have come into being because of the W-SAT.

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A scene from a video of a hand-washing song

In June, the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity organized a meeting attended by the minister and personnel from the field of water and sanitation. A handwashing song was performed. This is one example of such cross-disciplinary initiatives. W-SAT member Chihiro Saga, a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (community development), wanted to spread the message of the importance of hand-washing. So, she consulted with JOCVs who were working in Ethiopia in the areas of music, early childhood education and primary school education, and then tackled the job with local stakeholders. The song got a big reaction, Ms. Saga and her comrades began to be invited to many school events, and they created and released a video.

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Ethiopian children wash their hands in rhythm with the hand-washing song.

Junko Ojima and Kanako Kondo, both JOCVs (community development) are the volunteers sent in 2016 to Niassa Province in northwestern Mozambique, where JICA had built a water supply facility. Ms. Ojima, who originally was a nurse and wanted to work in health awareness, noticed that people were taking the soap from public restrooms and it wasn't being replenished. Using the name "Niassa Sisters," they gave repeated hand-washing demonstrations to residents and changed public attitudes.

Sayuri Takatasu, a JOCV (computer technology), was dispatched to a water service business entity in Kenya. She brought to light incorrect information in the water fee management system on customers and payments and false water meter information, then made it possible to calculate fees that correspond to the actual amount of water used. She plans to create a map of tap water pipes that includes places where water is leaking or being stolen.

Remaining involved in water and sanitation assistance using grass-roots experience

"I get the sense that there are a lot of 'graduates' of the W-SAT who continue providing cooperation in the field of water and sanitation. There are also some involved in JICA projects as consultants, so it has proven to be a good opportunity to cultivate human resources," said Masami Moko, a director in JICA's Water Resources Group, Global Environment Department.

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Atsushi Munakata works in Rwanda.

Atsushi Munakata is one of those "graduates," a former member of the W-SAT (and JOCV, community development) sent to Rwanda in March 2010.

Mr. Munakata lived among local people, spoke to them in the local language and learned about their true feelings. As a result, he felt that because the residents each had their own agricultural work to attend to, it was a burden on them to maintain water supply facilities. In cooperation with JICA experts dispatched nearby, he continued steadily providing technical training and other assistance. He arranged a structure that made it possible for residents to perform maintenance, and this made safe water available to some 5,000 residents.

After returning to Japan, Mr. Munakara was dispatched for a little more than a year, during which time he was involved in supporting less experienced W-SAT members, and then assisted grassroots efforts as a project formulation advisor for water and sanitation. "I want to get even more deeply involved in international cooperation work in the field of water and sanitation," he said.

Pursuing further development while emphasizing awareness of toilets and sanitation

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W-SAT member explains safe water to residents.

"For the ten years the W-SAT has existed, the baton has been passed reliably from one person to the next when there was a personnel change in JICA. This is true concerning both the enthusiasm and hard work of members, but also the structure for supporting those members. We often learn from the advice of members on the front lines in the field, and there are many win-win situations," recalled Mr. Moko.

The focus of cooperation in the field of water and sanitation continues to broaden. It includes building wells in rural villages, improving water supply facilities in urban areas, drinking water problems, promoting toilet use and raising awareness of the importance of sanitation. The W-SAT will continue grappling with these issues.

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