Based on field research in the Burera district in northern Rwanda, Ekane found clear contradictions between prevailing practice and government guidelines on hygiene and sanitation. And, despite the Rwandan government’s commitment to sanitation, the health, hygiene, convenience, and safety of toilets in Burera were unsatisfactory because most of the facilities were neither adequately constructed nor properly used.

The reason for this was threefold: lack of prioritization by local people for toilets, lack of information on proper sanitation guidelines and standards, and irregular and insufficient inspection.

“These findings demonstrate that a coherent national policy on sanitation and hygiene is critical for improving access to safe and hygienic sanitation,” says Nelson Ekane, “However, policy alone is not enough.”

One complement to policy is monitoring that evaluates whether toilets function as they should and are being used as intended. This approach connects policy to practice – it encourages uptake and provides information to policy makers and practitioners that can be used to improve policy and implementation.

Ekane provides a range of conclusions that can contribute towards improving the sanitation situation in Rwanda, including:

  • Integrating policy and practice on sanitation and hygiene at all levels.
  • Focusing on technology transfer to ensure that innovative technologies and systems such as productive sanitation are sustainable; and
  • Promoting carrot and stick approaches to spur households to prioritize household and toilet hygiene and invest in improved toilet structures and show ownership of these structures; and
  • Using schools as a starting point for change in a community with school-organised initiatives such as sanitation and hygiene competitions.

Overall, there is encouraging progress in the sanitation and hygiene sector in Rwanda, even though the country’s strategy is relatively new. The next step is to accelerate progress in the sector in a sustainable way.

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Nelson Ekane is a Research Associate at SEI’s Stockholm centre with an expertise in sustainable sanitation and sustainable agriculture.