SOIL and Medair: Doing Development Right
By Nick Preneta and Erica Lloyd
The international NGO Medair works in 10 countries around the world, with projects that cover everything from bringing emergency food supplies into crisis zones, to reducing long-term disaster risk by earthquake-proofing homes and community buildings. Although Medair clearly differs from SOIL in the size and scope of their work, we actually have some pretty important things in common - a belief in the dignity of all people, a methodology that invests in local leadership and local economies, and a willingness to take a critical eye to our work to make sure we're doing development right.
SOIL was thrilled when Medair asked us to consult with them on one of their sanitation projects in Madagascar. Project Rano Tsara (“Good Water”) was launched in 2007 to improve access to potable water, sanitation facilities, and better hygiene in ten communes. The project included introducing Medair-designed EcoSan toilets to the Maroantsetra commune, an area on the northeastern coast of Madagascar where high water tables, heavy rainy seasons, and an absence of waste treatment systems limit the options for sanitation.
Medair wanted to improve the public health situation in Maroantsetra by addressing these challenges in a sustainable way, so they trained local enterprises in the construction of these toilets (called Roa Lavaka in Malagasy). These enterprises then sold the toilets to the public at a subsidized rate, eventually reaching over 600 households in Maroantsetra.
Unlike far too many NGOs who operate as if the availability of funding is reason enough to scale up, Medair wanted to carefully examine how well the latrines were actually achieving those goals before expanding. As one Medair staff was already familiar with SOIL’s work (and even attended one of our EcoSan training sessions) here in Haiti, they knew we were just the team to help.
SOIL’s Consultant team first carried out a thorough desk review of the project and an initial analysis on the successes and challenges with the Rano Tsara I project. While the project was promising, there were several obstacles identified that prevented Medair from fulfilling their objectives, from technical shortcomings of the toilet design (such as ventilation and proper urine management), to the messages around use and management being transmitted to toilet owners.
The SOIL team initially provided Medair with some recommendations for addressing these obstacles and continued to remain in contact while changes were made by Medair. Then, in early June, I traveled to Maroantsetra to review these changes and provide further recommendations. The primary reason for the visit, however, was to conduct a two-day intensive training for Medair’s staff as well as local authorities. The training covered topics ranging from the technical components required for Roa Lavaka to an in-depth look at pathogen reduction and proper handling and disposal of the final material.
As SOIL's final report states: "SOIL believes that Medair’s extensive review process of Rano Tsara I and its incorporation of both SOIL as well as user’s feedback into the program design, has resulted in a well-designed program that should have a significant positive effect on the health and sanitation situations of Maroantsetra. SOIL’s field visit only confirmed the belief that... the Rano Tsara program is uniquely suited to the difficult challenges found in Maroantsetra."
We're so glad SOIL got to work with an organization who is committed to getting it right, and we look forward to hearing about Medair's successes in Maroantsetra and elsewhere!
Note: Feature image © Medair/Tom Russell