Local Government perspectives on the human rights to water and sanitation in coastal region of Bangladesh after introducing Making Rights Real Approach
By Md. Nazmul Huda (Senior Officer MEL) and Ashish Kumar Das (Officer MEL), Practical Action, Bangladesh
Written in collaboration with Simavi WASH SDG WAI Bangladesh sub-programme team
Making Rights Real (MRR) is an approach that aims to inspire and guide duty bearers to support the realisation of the Human Rights in Water and Sanitation (HRWS). The MRR approach has been applied in over 12 countries by 37 civil society organisations.
In Bangladesh, the MRR was first piloted in 2019 with the Development Organisation of the Rural Poor (DORP) and Stichting Land Ontwikkelings Project Bangladesh (SLOPB). Afterwards, it was scaled up, and in summer 2021, the approach was integrated in the WASH SDG programme implemented by WASH Alliance International (WAI) in various working areas in the southern coastal part of Bangladesh.
To implement this approach in Bangladesh, 10 representatives of local government institutions (LGI) were selected. In this blog, we will refer to them as “persona”. Before implementing the MRR approach, a baseline survey was conducted, which highlighted that, personas have basic understanding on the term “human rights to water and sanitation for all”, but they lack a detailed understanding of HRWS principles apart from nondiscrimination. A few said that end of open defecation, and safely managed sanitation as part of these rights. Most respondents said that they are trying to ensure equality and equity issues during service provision, although there is no specific guidance in the constitution for rights in HRWS.
Regarding planning and decision-making, few institutions have plans to provide basic water and sanitation services to the community, like allowing some budget for improving water and sanitation services, repair public toilets and increasing awareness regarding water, sanitation, and hygiene. Besides that, setting up menstruation friendly toilets and hand washing facilities for improving WASH services at school level are included in the plan.
Personas felt the importance of regular monitoring and shared that at present, the monitoring mechanism is not that strong. Few said that regular monitoring is possible with ongoing manpower, travel cost and management. One persona feels that Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) should monitor regularly.
Local governments face many challenges and obligations associated with planning and decision-making. Examples highlighted are, a large number of WASH demands coming from the community which requires resources allocation at local level, lack of sincerity and transparency, bias of selecting service sites and beneficiaries due to political kinship, and lack of human resources to monitor the total process. In this context, it becomes too difficult for their department to achieve water and sanitation for all. Most government representatives are interested to spend WASH budget for other development work.
The personas are dealing with issues like arsenic, salinity, iron, waterlogging, or disaster with the guidance of Mayor in Town Level Coordination Committee (TLCC), Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) & NGO Coordination meeting, where the mayor distributes activities among the stakeholders. Few said that project proposals have been sent for allocation for setting up of iron and salinity removal plant. Besides that, safe water is provided through mobile water tanks during floods, water logging and cyclones.
On transparency and accountability, it was reported that most of the areas have no systematic complaint and redress mechanism in relation to water and sanitation services. As a result, complaints are taken in an informal way, such as by phone calls to the respective authority who sometimes resolves those complaints in a casual manner. So that until now some groups do not have, or have limited access to water and sanitation services, especially the ultra-poor (a term used in Bangladesh for people who live below the poverty line), people with disabilities, and socially excluded people from scattered locations that are difficult to reach by LGI services.
The baseline also shows that representatives from different levels have expressed their interest for playing their roles for providing clean water and quality sanitation service in their areas through allocating budget, monitoring the activities, and providing priority-based services. They usually find knowledge to support the work they do from their respective departments and NGOs.
In the next six months, some facilitators from the WAI partners are going to meet the personas in each month. They decided to discuss a specific topic from the manual to coach them on related issues. After that, a midline evaluation will be carried out. From this midline, the consortium will be able to assess how the perspectives and knowledge of LGIs have changed since the baseline on the human right to water and sanitation and the Making Rights Real approach.
For more information on the MRR approach: https://human-rights-to-water-and-sanitation.org/mrrapproach/
Making Rights Real
The Making Rights Real (MRR) is an approach developed by the MRR Consortium, that enables WASH sector practitioners to engage local government officials on systemic challenges to the realisation of water and sanitation services for all, using human rights. It can be used in any programming that seeks to support local government officials to improve their work. Combined, the materials and process facilitate constructive and solution focused engagement of local government officials about challenges they face in their daily work – and encourages them to do better, using human rights. Users of the approach are encouraged to adapt the Making Rights Real process to their context. With the MRR materials, CSOs can identify the people who could be open to new ideas and engage with them considering their persona attributes.
The MRR approach has been applied in over 12 countries by 37 civil society organisations. The initial implementation demonstrated that the approach proves to be useful for complementarity to systems-strengthening activities and its capacity to overcome defensiveness towards human rights. It has achieved promising results across three levels of impact: on civil society implementers, on local government officials and on WASH services. Since, the consortium is reflecting on challenges associated with the monitoring and attributing impacts of the approach, as well as with how to enable independent uptake within and by other civil society organisations.
 Consortium partners behind the MRR: WASH United, WaterAid, UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, UNICEF, Simavi, RWSN and EWP.