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Impact Evaluation of an Innovative Program to Improve Sanitation Practices in Rural Mali

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted support to Universidad Nacional de La Plata for the conduct of a CEDLAS-PEP-UNICEF project to evaluate the impact of a program being implemented in Mali, in the context of a new approach to meet the MDGs’ sanitation target. This impact evaluation will be conducted following the PEP-PIERI methodologies.

Since 1990, sanitation is considered a priority sector for improving health and welfare of the rural population. In order to reduce the incidence of diseases related to poor sanitation, development programs have, for some time now, incorporated the need to raise awareness on the benefits of toilet usage. But progress in the achievement of the MDGs’ sanitation target has been slow; in 2006, 36% of rural population in Africa – over 200 million people – still practiced open defecation. 

A recent approach focuses on behavioural change as a key ingredient for successful adoption of better sanitation practices in rural Africa. Referred to as Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), this approach aims to promote behavioural change at individual-level by empowering local communities whose members aspire to live in a cleaner environment and, thus,  are motivated to take collective action in order to produce 'open defecation-free' villages. Such interventions may even have additional benefits on women's well-being, since it has been documented that women practicing open defecation often visit the sites at night time, being more vulnerable to harassment and assault.
See UNICEF news thread on CLTS programme: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/vietnam_58451.html 

However, while CLTS and related programs have already been implemented in more than thirty countries, no quality impact evaluation has been conducted so far to assess the actual effect of these interventions on the desired outcomes. 

In 2010, UNICEF and the government of Mali have joined efforts to implement CLTS in rural areas of Mali - where 28% of the population do not have access to any type of latrines and still practice “open defecation”. UNICEF thus contacted the PEP Network to conduct an external evaluation of the intervention, in order to assess its effective impact on the improvement of health outcomes, but also to determine what is driving collective action in order to increase sanitation coverage.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted the necessary funds to support the initiative. The evaluation will be conducted as a research collaboration of the Center for Distributive, Labor and Social Studies (CEDLAS) of Argentina (Universidad Nacional de La Plata), UNICEF and the PEP Research Network. The project is led by PEP researcher Maria Laura Alzua and PIERI director Habiba Djebbari
New evidence arising from this evaluation will allow UNICEF, government and donor agencies to learn about cost effective solutions to reduce open defecation. The results will also shed light on several outcomes which might be positively affected by improved sanitation: health, time use, community empowerment, safety of women and behavioral change leading to adoption. By providing simple and clear evidence on the effectiveness of an innovative sanitation program, this evaluation will help guide future decisions of the donor community, international organizations and developing country authorities, in order to reach the MDGs’ sanitation target and thus improve the lives of millions living in poverty.
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As in all PEP-led initiatives, local researchers are called on to take active part in the research work, and thus offered training to acquire the necessary knowledge and expertise to do so. An intensive training workshop was provided to over 20 participants in Bamako (Mali) October 15-18, 2011. GIZ Mali and IDRC's Think Tank Initiative had agreed to provide funds in order to extend the training opportunity to other researchers in the region. Find more information here.
See also PEP Schools in Impact Evaluation

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