Photo: Patrick Sheppard, RedR Australia

Building Local WASH Capacity in Bangladesh

More than 700 local emergency WASH workers responding to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh have received training in monsoon preparedness and response thanks to the work of Australia Assists deployee Tai Ring Teh.

Tai spent eight months with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) focusing on building local capacity as a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Officer from April to December in 2018.

Tai said, “The sanitation sites and Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) and treatments being implemented were in great need. Our priorities were to prevent the transmission of disease, especially cholera, and to assist in preparedness for the monsoon season that began in June.”

Australia Assists deployee Tai was stationed with UNHCR in Cox's Bazar where he delivered WASH training to local emergency workers. All photo credits: Patrick Sheppard, RedR Australia

Tai was the co-lead in the Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) working group, and conducted a training and facility tour of the settlement’s WASH infrastructure for frontline WASH actors to ensure a coordinated response.

“We gathered all the WASH managers and engineers we could find – around 70 people altogether – who then went around to look at the settlement’s facilities and understand what everyone else is doing and what improvements can be made. We needed to be coordinated,” Tai said.

The Cox's Bazar settlement where more than 688,000 Rohingya refugees fled in August 2017 escaping escalating violence in Myanmar. This added to an estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees already settled in the area, leaving approximately 900,000 refugees living in crowded conditions.

Tai provided guidance on emergency FSM, which resulted in significant improvements by local actors in its effectiveness and efficiency. In addition, Tai also ran training in emergency preparedness and response to monsoons, including conducting 12 WASH emergency simulation exercises that were incredibly well received by partners.

“I became the focal point to provide knowledge to the NGOs and was delivering training two to three days a week. Lots of people wanted to attend the sessions which was great,” said Tai.

“UNHCR and its WASH partners confirmed they have sufficient knowledge and capacity to sustain all WASH activities as I had trained over 700 WASH personnel through my role and by working side by side with Head Office (HO) and HO’s partners.”

Tai delivering a training session to local WASH workers. The sessions were often delivered in challenging weather conditions brought by the monsoon season. 

Tai spent the final weeks of his deployment undertaking a survey about WASH priorities for the settlement moving forward.

“One of the main findings showed that showers need to be included in sanitation sites, especially for women for menstrual hygiene. The survey found women don’t feel secure changing their menstrual products in the toilets or at home due to a lack of privacy, so bathing facilities have become extremely important,” said Tai.

“More accessible toilets for people with disabilities are also needed, and open defecation is still an issue among children, indicating a need for education in that area. The survey highlights what needs to be focused on in the future.” 

Tai said one of the greatest achievements of his deployment was the improvements he saw local workers make to WASH infrastructure in the settlement as a result of his training. He was also proud that the settlement did not see a cholera outbreak.  

“When I arrived, local NGOs and engineers were unable to implement WASH infrastructure to capacity. By October, the whole thing had turned around and the capacity was almost on par with international NGOs. That is the key difference my training made.”

“In an emergency, our work has to be done at the lowest cost possible and there are huge health risks. There wasn’t a cholera outbreak, which was a remarkable achievement.”