Breaking down siloes with the BabyWASH coalition

Posted 19 Sep 2016 by Dan Jones

Dan Jones, WaterAid UK’s Advocacy Coordinator, explains why WaterAid is excited to help lead a new cross-sector coalition.

A recent trip to Malawi has for me brought into sharp focus the urgent need for a more integrated, cross-sectoral approach if we are to stand a chance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

New partnerships and collaborations will be crucial, and this is why WaterAid is excited to be part of a new coalition launching at the UN General Assembly in a few days’ time. Called the ‘BabyWASH coalition’, this new joint effort aims to bring together organisations focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), early childhood development (ECD), nutrition, and maternal newborn and child health (MNCH) to improve child wellbeing in the critical first 1,000 days from conception to age two.

A planning, monitoring and evaluation meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi. A planning, monitoring and evaluation meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Delivery and advocacy

My first visit to Lilongwe, capital city of the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’, was to join a global workshop for WaterAid, discussing how we can improve and monitor the impact of our advocacy and influencing work. One day we travelled north to Kasungu to visit some of our partner organisations, and were introduced to a school where we have supported the building of latrines and promotion of hand hygiene and menstrual hygiene management. This experience – understanding the service delivery interventions while having advocacy in mind – crystallises why WaterAid is supportive of the BabyWASH initiative.

It was clear from visiting the school that our WASH-focused programme was playing an important role in improving the lives of some of Malawi’s most vulnerable children. It was an honour to talk with the Headmaster and to be shown around. Yet this is a school with more than 5,000 pupils and nowhere near enough toilets, classrooms or teachers. The improvements in their water, sanitation and hygiene provision are undermined by daily power cuts. A recently initiated school feeding programme tries to tackle the malnutrition faced by many of the children – but, as we know, may come too late.

The evidence is increasingly clear that by school age the early effects of undernutrition and stunting have already had terrible, and largely irreversible, effects on children’s physical and mental development. The first thousand days of life really are a critical window in which to ensure good health and nutrition. And a lack of good nutrition in the early years has as much to do with lack of WASH as with any lack of food. In a country like Malawi where only 41.5% of the population have access to improved sanitation, the absorption of vital nutrients is frequently prevented by diarrhoea, infections and intestinal worms, caused by dirty water, lack of sanitation and poor hygiene.

Connections, integration, collaboration

The example of this school typified for me the huge challenges that we all face in trying to achieve the Global Goals to end malnutrition, achieve healthy lives for all, ensure quality education provision and secure universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Increasingly, it is clear that we need to see the big picture of challenges facing children, families and communities if we are to improve their situation.

The interconnectedness of development challenges requires a transformation in the way that we work, breaking down the siloes of issues and sectors that have separated us and narrowed our focus. Yet it will be easy to become overwhelmed by the feeling that everything relies on everything else – a constant knot of problems that becomes difficult to unravel. Certainly no one organisation can solve this.

The BabyWASH coalition represents a key effort to strengthen the provision of effectively integrated programmes, policies and funding. It is very much aligned with WaterAid’s own Healthy Start global advocacy work, which seeks to improve newborn and child health through integration of WASH, targeting challenges such as the need for greater WASH–nutrition integration, and the poor provision of WASH in health-care facilities. The BabyWASH coalition aims to harness the energy, experience and expertise of many organisations to meet these challenges, in support of the Global Strategy for Every Woman Every Child.

Advocating for improved integration will be a central component of its work. We will seek to influence national governments to improve cross-ministerial planning and delivery between health, nutrition, education and WASH. We will share examples of good practice in integration with donor agencies, NGOs and multilateral organisations to encourage a step-change in funding which incentivises greater integration.

WaterAid will be working closely with World Vision International, the World Health Organization, ACF, UNICEF, FHI 360 and many others, and we encourage more agencies and organisations to join with us in this endeavour.

Poverty will not be ended through siloes. A child does not experience illness or hunger or thirst or an inability to learn through the lens of separate issues to be tackled individually. Effective, strategic integration must be at the heart of our work if we are to reach everyone everywhere by 2030.

Dan Jones is Advocacy Coordinator at WaterAid UK. He tweets as @danrodmanjones and you can read more of his work here.


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  • Aurel Clyde Rabehanta said:

    20 Sep 2016 6:18

    Clear, easy to catch and fit to all age category! Really nice and fully inspiring. Congrates! cross sector more than ever. Go!Go!Go WaterAid

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