ASHWAS an Example of Unempirical Study in Water and Sanitation Sector in India

ASHWAS, link- is among one of the unscientific surveys in water and sanitation sector in India. This study covered 17,200 household across 28 districts of Karnataka state of India, by covering a sample of 100 household from each Gram Panchayat (village government), but, failed in correlating the evidences scientifically and systematically.

When one goes through the survey it reflects that, the study team neither referred valid documents, guidelines and norms related to water and sanitation, nor had basic understanding about rural water and sanitation issues and the research methodologies. Unfortunately, the study was claimed and presented as largest and among the best studies to various UN, Civil Society, and Government organizations in India. Therefore, it becomes important to understand the facts and flaws in such highly claimed studies. An indicative list of major issues and rationale is given below:

Incorrect Study Methodology: The study methodology is scientifically incorrect, so are the evidences, for example: a.) In the study methodology mentioned that PPS (probability proportional to size) is used for selection of respondents, this method is used to select the primary sampling units (like villages etc.) not the respondents b.) How many households were covered and how they were selected is not clear in the study c.) There is no rationale for having such huge coverage for the survey.

Inappropriate Study Indicators: Following are major issues related to devising the study tools and its indicators:

  • The survey didn’t consider any project process, through which the available infrastructure for water and sanitation in a Village/Panchayat had been developed.
  • There is no mention about key communication means like-information education and communication [IEC] interventions, human resources development [HRD] initiatives and capacity building measures, etc.
  • This survey did not consider the ‘voice and choice’ and ‘willingness’ of people during any of the projects implemented, and the contribution of beneficiaries in asset creation.
  • The survey didn’t consider people’s access to ‘safe water’ rather it used the term ‘good water’ (which is incorrect interpretation), and the households had been assumed owning a number of water ‘purifying’ techniques, rather getting ‘safe’ water through certain sustainable delivery mechanism.
  • The survey didn’t analyzed and explored vital issues like ‘incentives’ to poor, marginalized and ‘vulnerable’ communities, in accessing and developing the WatSan facilities.
  • Household garbage and water disposal system, and accessing the risk related to water contamination due to them, had not been touched upon.
  • The study emphasized that, WatSan service should be provided by the ‘Gram Panchayat’ (Village Government), which makes meager role of beneficiary in participatory approach and focuses more on centralized theme.
  • About the types of questions (in survey tools), for example, upon safe handling of water, there are inadequate options, also, though the respondents were not informed initially about complaining on breakdown (of water supply) to the government officials, it calculatedly focused on asking questions on the bribe taken by the government functionaries. This reflects the biased nature of study.
  • In entire study there is no mention about ‘APL’ (Above Poverty Line) and ‘BPL’ (Below Poverty Line) population and the ‘incentive’ provision for Sanitation Facilities and accessibility for safe drinking water, however, the respondents were asked about ‘capital investment’ they received from Government Projects.
  • The study also reflects the poor understanding of the study team on different technological options towards latrines / toilets, for example it mentioned ‘Water Seal’ and ‘Pour Flush’ as separate toilet types (though they are same).
  • There is missing link related to hand washing (by soap, ash and mud/soil) and most prevalent water borne diseases. In entire study the only options (discussed with respondents) for water borne diseases were ‘dysentery’ and ‘chikungunya’.
  • There is no mention on community lead sanitation facilities and adequacy, rural sanitary marts (RSMs), basic difference between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ toilets.
  • The actual status of toilets in Schools and Anganwadi’s, and separate provisions for girls and boys (gender aspect) has not been considered at all.

Among many other such discrepancies, the irrational questions on water quality, insufficient options in many important questions, non consideration of evidence based facts, assuming the use of school toilets by Gram Panchayat President and members, etc. are the flaws of this survey.

Analysis: In the report, there is no base/total ‘N’ (number) given for any table or chart, where as none of the tables/charts reflect about the source of the data (house hold level or community level).

In light of above issues, it is clear that the study had not considered the basic and very important aspects related to research; methodology, sampling procedure, analysis, study tools and laid provisions in water and sanitation. Therefore, as mentioned above, this study should not be considered as citizen’s report card and an acceptable document to disseminate the findings and use it in policy or planning purposes in any of the water sanitation programs or projects.

The study is also a reflection that when an organization that has no such experience in the sector before should not be entrusted such studies, while users must thoroughly check the credibility, experience of organizations and the study team before using them for any such purpose. Other Links:

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