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Community Contribution

Committing to Collaborative Learning to Improve Sanitation in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia

E. Jordan, B. Arjoud, K. Pugel, and L. Henry

Governments, aid agencies, and service providers have long-struggled to provide reliable sanitation services to peri-urban residents. In Debre Birhan, Ethiopia only about 18 percent of fecal sludge (FS) is safely managed until disposal, and service hardly reaches low-income residents. Furthermore, key decision makers in the town’s sanitation operation and management are disparate and lack a common vision to find solutions to these and other urgent sanitation needs.

As part of the larger, USAID-funded Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS), a CLA approach helped partners Tetra Tech and IRC to collaborate and iteratively adapt program approaches, including enabling key local actors to coalesce to advance a safer, more sustainable sanitation system they can maintain long term. The two organizations: used a theory of change as a basis for learning, shared office space and staff to foster continuous learning and coordination, systematically documented team observations to build the technical evidence base, and built in a regular practice of reflection through quarterly meetings and annual pause and reflect events.

So far, the initiative has increased dialogue among sanitation decision makers who resolved a long-standing conflict over the location of a FS disposal site. The town government also increased sanitation funds by 68 percent between 2020 and 2021. While the program continues to gather lessons and adapt to changing contexts, the CLA approach to sanitation in Debre Birhan has allowed local actors to make tremendous steps in improving and widening local sanitation services and created momentum for their sustainability.

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