More than 100 representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs), government agencies, regional organisations and aid donors will meet at the Lami Novotel in Suva from 17 to 20 November 2015 to share experiences about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects being delivered in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste by Live and Learn Environmental Education, WaterAid and World Vision.
These four-year projects are funded by the Australian Government’s Civil Society (CS) Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Fund and are set to benefit over 100,000 people in the region through improving sustainable access to drinking water sources, sanitation facilities and knowledge of hygiene practices. Globally, the $103m CS WASH Fund (www.cswashfund.org) is supporting 29 projects in 19 countries.
The Pacific context presents particular challenges to WASH service delivery. Access to resources is constrained and communities and economies are geographically isolated. This learning event will explore the important role CSOs play in WASH by strengthening and complementing government and community initiatives, particularly related to WASH in schools and sustainable behaviour change.
“The lack of WASH facilities in schools is a major barrier to girls’ education globally and the Pacific is no exception. Ensuring the rights of girls are met within School WASH programs is challenging. Complex socio-cultural norms, ingrained gender bias and taboos, as well as resource constraints, make it a major issue for WASH practitioners in the Pacific” said Krissy Nicholson, a WASH specialist and facilitator at the event.
Live and Learn Fiji will share its experience of working in schools to improve menstrual hygiene management. Manager of the project, Vasiti Seruvatu Qionimacawa pointed out that “discussion of menstruation is taboo in our culture, it is a time of isolation and girls often miss school. Our programs aim to develop gender-sensitized innovations to promote privacy and improved access to safe WASH facilities.”
The learning event aims to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of WASH projects within the Fund by facilitating knowledge exchange and learning. The Fund’s Knowledge and Learning Manager, Bronwyn Powell, emphasised that “addressing sanitation and hygiene behaviour change in communities has significant benefits for human health, particularly for women and girls. There can be institutional, cultural and resource barriers to building and using toilets and practising good hygiene behaviours. This learning event will bring together professionals to learn from each and share stories of success.”
Learning and knowledge sharing are key components of the CS WASH Fund. Bringing people together to learn from one another improves the sustainability and reach of Australia’s investments in improving WASH conditions across the region.
“Investing in WASH services can transform economies, is beneficial for the environment and can lift human development for all. Accelerating progress on water and sanitation for sustainable development in the Pacific is possible. It will require a lot of ambition, innovation, knowledge exchange and, most importantly, strong working relationships between civil society organisations, government and other interested groups,” said Margaret Twomey, Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, in her opening remarks to participants.
Commending the experience and expertise of those in the room, Ms Twomey wished participants well in their reflections and discussions over the next three days.