Rural Sanitation Situation in India and Way Forward-Alternate Strategies

Posted on March 24, 2010

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Current scenario of sanitation in India cannot be rated a being very good. Among other important issues of livelihood, health and water, sanitation remained the last priority of the people in general. I wish to share an example in this context, which may reveal upon various aspects related to; research, health-livelihood links, gaps and priority areas of an inclusive program.

During one of my recent visit to Madhya Pradesh, I had chance to interact with various functionaries those are working on a livelihood promotion and rural poverty elimination program in tribal districts. With the program team members, we also visited in few recently declared Nirmal Panchayats (received Niram Gram Puraskar-Award) and interacted with the people and elected representatives. The main purpose was to observe and understand the linkages between hygiene situation, health impact and livelihood opportunities, and access sustainability aspects in Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) program.

From our interaction with various project functionaries, we observed that poor hygiene and sanitation largely affected the health of the poor and tribal people in the villages and in-turn the available options for various livelihood opportunities. During initial phase of the program, a set of participatory research initiatives revealed that, poor hygiene and sanitation situation largely affected the project achievements. Therefore, the management team at state level decided to orient and train every project team members on various policy, institutional and technical aspects of the TSC program. Further, it had been decided that, there should be initiatives towards close coordination among TSC and Livelihood project team members at each level for the success of the each other.

During our visit to a few Nirmal Panchayats, we found that the situation was not very encouraging as the sanitary facilities in about 40% cases were defunct or not in use. When we discussed the situation among people, they mentioned that it was unilateral initiative of few PRI functionaries to get Nirmal Gram Award. We analyzed that, the technical options adopted were not feasible to the area due to topographic, geological and water availability related reasons.

In conclusion, I would say that:

  • There is a need to adopt an alternate institutional and implementation strategy to traditional TSC, in facilitating the community on most viable system and feasible technology options considering the geomorphology and climatic condition of the area. 
  • There is the need to integrate the TSC program with other developmental program, this will reduce the efforts, resources, and provide better scope in term of coverage and sustaining the efforts.
  • There could possible efforts in facilitating community in the productive use of excreta and urine, which will help in economic and health benefits, e.g. chemical free farming.
  • The research or studies in sanitation coverage should cover comprehensive issues like livelihood, economic gain, health benefits, time saving, etc. in place of only physical structure.

In above context, appropriate advocacy strategy to influence policy would be an important component, and such ‘advocacy initiatives’ should be led by the organizations those have valid and adequate experience, to influence the policy. Here, I would like to highlight the issues of ‘experienced’ organizations. There are instances in ‘water and sanitation’ sector, where it has been observed that organizations without valid experience and people in sanitation sector are jumping into in the race of leading the scene. This has its own negative implications for sure. Also, such feeble initiatives have lead to poor credibility of other experienced organizations among policy makers. This is not a good trend. There are evidences where ‘unempirical’ research in sanitation and ‘inappropriate’ implementation support provided by organizations had lead to miserable results.   This can be considered among one of the gaps in sanitation sector in India, which is no-good.

Therefore, in my view, apart from various points on technical and social mobilization aspects, there is an urgent need to look in to the issues of credible organizations leading the consensus in advocating for ‘sustainable sanitation’ and ideas on other sanitation approaches to the government. [Written in March 2010]

Posted in: Environment, Water