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Published on: 26/02/2015

This blogpost was written by Kurian Baby and Ruchika Shiva

IRC along with partners, supported the India WASH Summit, organized by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Ministry of Urban Development and WaterAid from 16 – 18 February 2015 in New Delhi.

India WASH Summit Banner

Changing behaviour

Meeting the Swacch Bharat Mission (Clean India mission) goal means constructing 120 million toilets (110 million in rural and 10 million in urban areas) by 2 October 2019, which is about 65,000 toilets a day till 2 October 2019. It also means, learning from past sanitation campaigns, that the behaviour and practice of at least 120 million families need to change.

In order to reach this ambitious goal the Summit focused on an array of issues – health, water security, technology, social engineering for better hygiene, social exclusion, disabilities, waste water and faecal sludge management, research and learning, institutional transformation for accountable WASH services. Experience in implementation of sanitation programmes and research on preferences of communities by the RICE Institute in India, show that people want good toilets which implies a toilet with a septic tank or connected to a sewage network. These solutions are expensive, while other suitable low-cost options are available.

While agencies focus on low-cost technologies, it is essential to keep in mind the communities‘ aspirations with respect to sanitation and the ways of making them understand, this is essential, otherwise the uptake of toilets will always remain a challenge focus on men – the decision maker and the resource provider for construction, and not on women like most sanitation campaigns till now have done. Further, the significance of recognizing/understanding local cultural aspects and social norms before designing behaviour change campaigns was emphasized. The need to start from where the community is and then to build from there, is key to engaging at the community level. Hence, this means being flexible and adaptable to various regions, cultures and practices of India. At the same time, it is essential for the local governance mechanism to respond to the demand created by proper supply chain, trained masons and disbursing the subsidies in a timely manner.

Institutional capacities

This brings us to the institutional capacities available on ground, both in terms of numbers and trained personnel. It is now advocated to have a district-wide approach instead of focusing on a village as a unit. This approach would help set up more effective supply chain mechanisms, use human resources more efficiently, include health and other allied sectors and monitor these. This requires a service delivery approach at scale, but also at pace. Presently, while there has been significant pressure from the central and state government on the sanitation campaigns, most states don’t have dedicated human resources for demand creation at the village or block level. It further adds pressure to the existing responsibilities of the District Collectors. On the ground, in order to meet targets, triggering has turned into a farce in many communities and toilets built are being used for storage and shelter for cattle and goats.

The Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Choudhry Birendra Singh, highlighted the need to move from a technocratic approach to focusing on communities, their understanding and needs. He further emphasized the need to work with local government, the Panchayati Raj Institutions. At present monitoring for rural drinking water and sanitation by the Ministry is focusing on physical progress and costs. The need to monitor usage is also essential. WaterAid has included baseline household data in district maps. These maps present current and projected data on water supply and disease burden.

Besides attaching a monitoring cell to the Ministry, the government is planning to set up Rapid Action Learning Units (RALUs) at the National, State and District levels. These teams will share learnings (both of practices that worked and that didn’t).

Presenting the case of Kerala

Dr Kurian Baby at the India WASH Summit

Dr. Kurian, IRC Country Director India, presented the challenges from Kerala with respect to water security[1] and sanitation and emphasized that they are complimentary and inseparable. While Kerala has 95% sanitation coverage at the individual household level, which is the highest in the country, it did not consider the full sanitation chain, and as a consequence well water and ground water are contaminated. Most toilets are not connected to a sewer network. He advises to focus on proper design incorporating sustainable technologies and construction quality assurance.

Social inclusion

In India there are 26.8 million people with a disability[2] (that is 2.21% of the total population of the country). Design and construction of inclusive WASH facilities with the participation of people with disabilities was emphasized. It is estimated that the cost of making facilities inclusive is significantly less than the cost of exclusion. WaterAid has worked with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation on developing technical options and guidelines for people with disabilities[3]. Unfortunately, while these guidelines are shared, there is no separate budget allocated for these options. It is left to the states themselves budget for specific solutions. Social exclusion still remains a significant challenge in the WASH sector in India. One of the speakers pointed out that without extra investments the marginalized communities would be left behind.

Inputs needed

Participants from the corporate sector at the Summit pledged their support for the Swacch Bharat Mission. It is essential at this point, to talk with them about the sustainability of interventions and interventions at scale. At present, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives in India are focused on one-off initiatives in schools and health facilities, which more often than not, don’t have a life beyond a couple of years. Infrastructure is built or renovated, without any plans for maintenance of these facilities.

The Ministry clearly put forth areas it needs inputs on – a format for engaging NGOs (the example of Maharashtra was shared, where the State government has allocated funds to NGOs at district level to conduct hygiene baseline surveys on marginalized groups. The Director of the Mission further added that even though the guidelines give a certain level of flexibility, the officials at the state, district and block levels still need guidance to implement them.

The summit ended interestingly with a few elected Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly of the newly elected government in Delhi, sharing the work done so far, their aspirations for their constituencies and how they plan to take these forward.


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