Communication and Social Mobilisation in Bangladesh
Behavioural Development in Sanitation, Hygiene and Safe Water Use

In Bangladesh, the percentage of people with adequate sanitation rose from 21% in 1990 to 38% in 1997. However, 62% of the population still has no coverage and 20,000 metric tonnes of faeces are discharged into fields and waterways every day. Each year, this unhealthy situation contributes to 75 million episodes of diarrhoeal diseases among children under five and the death of approximately 110,000 children.

Campaign Targeting Children

Bangladesh's progress in sanitation has been largely due to social action, mobilised by a communications campaign. However the situation has remained static since the mid-1990s and it was realised that a more dynamic communications strategy, including a comprehensive media plan was needed to mobilise communities not yet served. In 1998-1999 a new National Communication Strategy for Sanitation, Hygiene and Safe Water Use was developed with support from UNICEF. It aims to move beyond the social mobilisation of groups that are easily reached and convinced, and to shape attitudes and habits that will lead to a life-time of healthy living. It targets those who suffer most from the lack of adequate sanitation coverage - children - and through them, families. The 41% of Bangladeshi households that still use unhealthy, hanging latrines is a special focus group.

Children, as well as the wider community, are most easily reached through primary schools. The communication strategy therefore calls for inserting hygiene education into Bangladesh's School Water and Sanitation Programme, which is constructing water and sanitation facilities in 10,350 primary schools and promoting their regular use and maintenance. At the same time, primary and secondary school students and their teachers will be mobilised to map and monitor latrine construction and hygienic behaviour in the school area.

These school-based activities complement a wider advocacy effort that involves the placement of 10,000 demonstration latrines, constructed by private producers, in the households of influential community members. It also includes the establishment of water and sanitation facilities in 600 health centres and increasing access and use of safe water for drinking and hygiene in the underserved Chittagong Hill Tracts. As is the case for all water and sanitation sector activities in Bangladesh, the problem of arsenic in ground-water must be addressed. All water sources constructed will be safe and arsenic-free, and communication material will include information about arsenic mitigation.

Communication Objectives for 2001

Reduction of disparities in water and sanitation coverage, promotion of balanced roles for women and men in caring for the environment and support for a decentralised approach to planning, implementation and monitoring of new water and sanitation facilities are expected to lead to a safer and cleaner environment in Bangladesh. The National Communication Strategy aims for the following by 2001:

  • awareness of 80% of the population of how faeces contaminate water, soil, fingers and food; 

  • 41% additional rural households motivated to construct sanitary latrines; 

  • all school children in classes 4-5 targeted under the School Sanitation Project actively involved in cleaning and properly using latrines at school and home; 

  • all school children in classes 1-3 targeted under the School Sanitation Project knowing and practising proper techniques for washing hands and using the latrine regularly; 

  • at least 50% of the adult population knowing and practising three methods of safe water collection and knowing how to keep water safe once its collected; 

  • 50% of the population knowing how to protect ponds from contamination.

Elements of the Communications Strategy

The Communications Strategy includes development of a campaign logo that clearly identifies the benefits of sanitation, hygiene and safe water use. It also features a cartoon character called “Kamal Chacha” (Uncle Kamal). Both are used on all materials.

Packages that work together and are mutually reinforcing are designed to reach children and community members directly. There is a strong concentration on media for, by and with children, including:

  • a school package with games, songs, rhymes, comic books and child-to-child activities that conveys messages such as how germs are spread. There are components for both young and older children, who are expected to carry messages home and to their communities. 

  • a media package. This includes innovations for Bangladesh TV such as two-minute animated infomercials, regular 30-second spots and five-second break-bumpers with messages promoting core behavioural change (e.g., “did you wash your hands today?"), designed to appeal to children. Radio spots will rely on traditional media, such as jari songs, as well as a rendition of the namta (the mathematics table set to song) to get across sanitation messages.

To encourage sustainability, the campaign will help build the marketing ability of local masons who construct rings and slabs through a “sani-mart,” turning their mundane shops into exciting, interactive communication vehicles. Marketing aids, such as flyers and posters, as well as miniature latrine models, will foster greater local supply and demand.

Surveys repeatedly show that families in Bangladesh tend to get most of their information on issues related to health through interpersonal communications. Communication packages have thus been designed for those who come into closest contact with the family, including 60,000 front-line health workers, religious leaders such as Imams, and Bangladesh's extensive network of NGO workers.

Advocacy materials such as communication aids will be prepared to help members of the Union Parishad (UP), the lowest level of government in Bangladesh, promote the link between health and sanitation/hygiene to villagers. In particular, materials will be developed for female members of the UP, who hold specially designated seats on the 12-member council. UP members will also be assisted in advocating a role for the council in ensuring that land is available to families who want to construct a sanitary latrine.

Best Practices

Benefiting from the social marketing experience of UNICEF and other development agencies, the campaign is observing the following “best practices”:

  • outsourcing. It is being developed by a full-service social marketing agency, Thompson Social of New Delhi, in collaboration with its junior partner, Asiatic Communication, in Dhaka. This enables access to private sector initiatives and resources. 

  • setting standard operating procedures with regard to such matters as request for proposals, agency selection and printing guidelines; 

  • building capacity to manage the development and implementation of activities through in-house communication training and by apprenticing staff to social marketing agencies; 

  • creation of inter-sectoral linkages, which are critical for maximum effectiveness. Cooperation is maintained with a national oral rehydration therapy communication campaign that includes school activities and a health workers’ package.

Lessons Learned

Lessons learned from the School Sanitation and Social Mobilisation projects suggest additional best practices.

One important observation has to do with the benefits of maximum transparency and accountability with regard to roles and responsibilities of various government officials, NGO representatives and other partners. This leads to an improvement in construction and maintenance of water supply and sanitation facilities, resulting in greater community participation and sense of ownership.

Social mobilisation experiments undertaken through schools in various districts have demonstrated that children are effective in prompting their parents to build and use sanitary latrines and to keep them clean.

The involvement of the NGO Forum for Drinking Water and Sanitation in 20 thanas (districts) during 1993-1995 confirmed that a concentrated social mobilisation effort involving local NGOs can increase sanitation coverage by 90% and improve hygienic behaviours significantly. Accordingly, the NGO Forum and other NGOs have been involved in advocacy and training/ orientation workshops and village promotional efforts.

Private latrine producers play a major role in raising sanitary latrine coverage, not only by selling hardware but also by offering advice on how to build latrines. A 1995 survey showed that the number of such producers increased in response to the growing demand for facilities created by communication and social mobilisation efforts.

Finally, Care International's Sanitation and Family Education (SAFE) project and its subsequent expansion to the Sanitation and Family Education Resource (SAFER) has shown the effectiveness of six integrated interventions in reducing diarrhoeal incidences by two-thirds within one year in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh. They are: clean water; sanitary latrine use and safe disposal of faeces; environmental cleanliness; proper hand washing; food hygiene; and diarrhoea management. The inter-sectoral approach, the active involvement of children, the effective role of local NGOs, and development of a monitoring system for behavioural development are among the lessons of this programme that could be more widely applied.

Source: Deepak Bajracharya, UNICEF Bangladesh.

Photo: Shehzad Noorani/UNICEF


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