Ethiopia: WASH Movement for better sanitation and hygiene (#335)

In 2004, action was taken to address some major challenges in Ethiopia through the Ethiopia Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Movement. The objectives were to promote improved water, sanitation and hygiene practices and gain political and social commitment. The initiative has enjoyed great success. Lessons learnt include the importance of defining responsibilities and obligations of members, the importance of appointing local staff that facilitates the communication, and the importance of regular funding.


Ethiopia is one of the most underprivileged countries in the world, ranking 105 out of 108 on the human poverty index. Approximately 50-70% of the population lives under the absolute poverty line, and the under five mortality rate is 123 per 1000. Sanitation and hygiene related diseases are among the most common deadly diseases in Ethiopia.

Action taken

In 2004, the Ethiopia Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Movement was launched under Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). The objectives are to promote improved water, sanitation and hygiene practices and gain the political and social commitment required to make a real difference in the country’s situation.

Each year, the WASH Movement is launched under a new and simple slogan (such as “Your health is in Your Hands”, “Let us Use Latrine for our Health and Dignity”, and “Keep Water Safe”). These initiatives target the most vulnerable groups, although WASH messages are frequently disseminated to political leaders and wider Ethiopian community.

The WASH Movement became very adept at combining social mobilization and advocacy activities, and strategically used the media as a partner, rather than just as receivers and conduits of information. The focus on regular monitoring allowed the WASH Movement to identify successes and shortcomings in a timely manner, thus acting as a compass for the Movement, identifying the methods, programs and actions that provided the most positive change.

Despite the WASH Movement’s successes, coalitions, especially when they are as large as the Ethiopia WASH, are prone to lose momentum and experience a decrease in commitment and activity. The WASH Movement recognized this, and in 2007 organized a WASH Revitalization Workshop, to review its status, update stakeholders on recent achievements, and discuss and devise future means of strengthening the Movement.

Not only did this workshop result in a renewed sense of motivation and momentum, it also led to the revision of some of the procedures. For instance, instead of the usual weekly lunch meetings, attended mainly by core group members and focusing mostly on management and administrative issues, the Movement now holds monthly meetings, which deal with different sector themes. As a result, meeting attendance has increased dramatically.

Lessons learned

  • The Ethiopian WASH Movement is a strong example of coalition building. The Movement contributed to the signing of Memorandum of Understanding among the three sector ministries, and the development of a National Hygiene and Sanitation Strategy and Protocol.
  • It is important to define responsibilities and obligations, and the benefits gained from membership in Movement coalition.
  • It is important to secure full time local person that facilitate communication and coordination among coalition members.
  • The coalition needs financial partners that provide regular funding; however, all contributors should be duly recognized.