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Water, sanitation and hygiene: Learning opportunity for practitioners in Bangladesh

Posted: 7 September 2021

Bangladesh, Australian Professional Opportunity, COVID-19, Experience, Linkages,

Australia Awards works with local and international organisations to provide Australian Professional Opportunities (APOs) to participants from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. APOs are learning and development activities funded by the Australian Government to support leaders from priority sectors with additional learning and networking opportunities.

Pre-existing humanitarian challenges have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prioritising one such challenge, Australia Awards Bangladesh recently supported 38 water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and humanitarian practitioners to strengthen their skills and competencies through an APO on ‘WASH in emergencies’. This activity took the form of a webinar series delivered by RedR Australia, a leading international humanitarian response agency. The webinars provided a venue for the participants to establish a network among themselves and facilitated peer learning. Some of the RedR Australia resource persons previously worked in Bangladesh and the webinars allowed them to restore ties with their former counterparts.

During one of the sessions, Emily MacDonald – First Secretary (Humanitarian) at the Australian High Commission, Bangladesh – congratulated the participants and highlighted the Australian Government’s commitment to supporting Bangladesh’s response to COVID-19 and working together to drive future prosperity. She encouraged the APO participants to establish networks with one another and wished them success in contributing to development in Bangladesh.

“Through Australia Awards, the Government of Australia offers emerging leaders different learning and professional development opportunities so that they contribute to development initiatives in Bangladesh and the Indo-Pacific more broadly,” she said. “In Bangladesh, we offer Master’s-level Scholarships and Short Courses. From 2021, we have also started offering Australian Professional Opportunities and this webinar is the first APO for Bangladesh.”

Emily MacDonald – First Secretary (Humanitarian) at the Australian High Commission, Bangladesh, delivering an opening speech

The three RedR Associate Trainers who delivered the technical components of the seminars were Tai Ring Teh, Mark Handby and Paul de Launay. Paul is a recipient of a Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2018 Australia Day Honours List for his service to engineering, particularly in disaster relief situations. The trainers used their experience in Bangladesh to bring relevant insights to the presentations. The interactive sessions helped the participants understand the hazards posed by poor environmental sanitation, identify vulnerabilities to diseases in emergencies and gain awareness of WASH issues during an emergency response.

The participants also explored the challenges and practices of environmental sanitation and ways to mitigate public health risks in emergencies. The methodology – an interactive online professional seminar approach – was appreciated by participants and was reflected in their responses to the post-seminar survey.

In one of the sessions, Australia Awards alumna Fatema Zohura (Assistant Scientist, Infectious Diseases Division at icddr,b) spoke about the challenges in implementing WASH interventions to ensure a safe environment and improved health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another participant, Abdullah Al Raihan (Lead for Disaster Risk Reduction, Humanitarian Crisis Management Programme in BRAC), shared that the APO improved his understanding of best practices of WASH programs. He is also confident that he will be able to use the insights from the webinar at this work in BRAC.

“This session was helpful for me to integrate WASH and Disaster Risk Reduction during an emergency response and early recovery phases, and at the same time consider environmental sustainability,” Raihan said.

Australia Awards will continue to use APOs to broker, build and strengthen partnerships between Australian organisations and their counterparts in South Asia and to demonstrate Australian expertise in key sectors.