One of the stated Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations is to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation and to halve the proportion of population left without the same by 2015.
Though India’s chances of achieving this lofty goal by the set target year appears rather grim, it has not prevented successive Governments at the Centre from consistently working towards improving the situation through some of their flagship schemes in the sector.
The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan
The Total Sanitation Campaign of the late 90s aimed at bringing about a qualitative shift in the rural sanitation scene by creating a demand for toilets in houses and schools. The scheme was tweaked and revamped as the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in 2012, making it comprehensive and people-centric. The discourse was no longer restricted just to toilet use, but deliberated on the larger concept of sanitation and general well-being.
The strategy was made more flexible when it came to adopting structures and technologies that best suited the geography as well as the household. Not just toilets, the scheme supported initiatives designed to manage solid as well as liquid waste in rural areas as well. Setting up of rural sanitary marts was incentivized and strengthened to provide the necessary material and equipment support.
Awareness campaigns and media activities brought the message closer to home. ‘Nirmal Gram Puraskars’ were awarded to villages that managed to completely eliminate Open Defecation (OD), thereby boosting morale and further encouraging the drive to change.
From dreams to reality
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, in association with the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank, has compiled case studies and success stories from across the country to inspire and enable Panchayats to learn from the rewarding methods that were employed. The first volume ‘From Dreams to Reality’ was published in 2010 while the second one ‘Pathway to Success’ came out in 2013.
The first compilation talks about the knowledge from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh where the focus was not on toilet construction, instead, concentrated on holistic concept of health and hygiene. Well-trained field workers were involved in door-to-door campaigns to get the message across, focusing expressly on women and children’s hygiene.
In Naxal-infested Malkangiri district of Odisha, Pandripani Gram Panchayat, the resourceful Sarpanch used the seven day ‘Chaita Parab’ festival as the platform to spread awareness about sanitation and hygiene. The intense campaign, followed by an even more intense construction drive resulted in making every house in the Panchayat equipped with a functional toilet.
Hoori Gram Panchayat in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh presented a peculiar case. Despite the presence of toilets in 60% of the households, almost 95% of the people continued to defecate in the open. A training workshop organized by the District Rural Development Agency helped the villagers and the Panchayat officials to reflect on their sanitation practices. Two enterprising women took the challenge upon them and set out to make their village open defecation free. Simple pit latrines were constructed forthwith in five locations and all the villagers shared these toilets instead of going out in the open. Subsequently these were converted into pour-flush toilets within six months’ time with all the other households in the village joining in.
Of cabinets and commandments
The state of Uttar Pradesh actively encouraged the setting up of ‘Child Cabinets’ in schools to inculcate hygienic habits at an early age. The idea was to use ‘children as change agents’ to alter the attitudes of their families and peers regarding safe sanitation and hygiene. A steadily flourishing movement, these micro-organizations helped improved the environs of the schools as well as the community, one step at a time.
West Godavari District administration in Andhra Pradesh conceived and communicated their ’10 Commandments of Sanitation’ to the community in a bid to make the district OD free. NGOs were identified to spread awareness, youth committees were formed to monitor progress and fines levied for defecating in the open. The district stood first for three years in a row starting from 2007 for winning the maximum number of Nirmal Gram Puraskars in the state.
Pathway to success
Punjab pursued a novel method to treat its liquid waste. Village ponds once used for recreation and rainwater harvesting were found to be increasingly used as wastewater dumps. The administration intervened to put these to use to treat liquid waste generated from the villages in an environment friendly manner. The ponds were emptied, desilted and divided into four compartments to function as different units to aid in sedimentation, maturation and polishing of the grey water which can be re-used later for irrigation.
Kerala launched an activity-oriented workbook, ‘Thelima’ to introduce school students to the concepts of on sanitation, hygiene and health as part of their curriculum. Teachers were provided training to motivate children into making attitudinal changes and inculcate health and hygiene values in them at a young age. The concept proved to be a big hit and keeping in mind the requirements of the English-medium schools, the government introduced both English and Malayalam versions of the book for all school students across the state.
If the supply of water is unreliable or interrupted, toilets are bound to become defunct in the long run. Hoshangabad district in Madhya Pradesh realized this to be the reason behind most of the school toilets being unsanitary and unused, installed force-lift pumps to ensure continued water supply. Post-installation, the district administration found that the use and maintenance of toilets in schools improved considerably and so did the children’s personal hygiene practices.
Diffusion of vital knowledge
These case studies provide valuable information about how the process of social and behavioral transformation is initiated and takes shape across a variety of socio-economic and geographic settings. Many of the methods mentioned can be tweaked and replicated elsewhere depending upon the requirement.
For more details about the projects mentioned above and several other success stories from across India, download the compendiums listed as attachments below.