10-on-10 with Siddhartha Das- India Sanitation Coalition

Surfaces Reporter talks with Siddhartha Das, Program leader of The India Sanitation Coalition (ISC). ISC was formed with the objective of bringing all stakeholders in the sanitation field onto one platform where they can share information, learn from others, partner and collaborate.
Siddhartha Das, Program Leader, India Sanitation Coalition

Around 1.2 billion or a sixth of the Earth’s human population lives in India and about half of this billion defecates in the open. The present government has demonstrated its political will to make India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019 by launching the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in both urban and rural capacities. However, there seems to be a lack of coordination and cooperation among the stakeholders working in the sector. The India Sanitation Coalition (ISC) was formed with the objective of bringing all stakeholders in the sanitation field onto one platform where they can share information, learn from others, partner and collaborate.

Surfaces Reporter (www.surfacesreporter.com) supports the initiatives toward better Sanitation and thus was keen to interact with Siddharta Das who is leading ISC, to learn about developments so far and share with our keen readers from Bath & Tiles industry. Previously he has worked with Water Aid in New Delhi as the National Policy Manager. In UNICEF, he was providing leadership support at the national level for the implementation of the Link Workers Scheme. He has played a key role in planning and preparation for South Asian Conference for Sanitation. Mr. Das was also a Steering Committee member of End Water Poverty (EWP) which is the world’s largest global campaign on Sanitation.

“With only two and half years left in the Swachh Bharat Mission, it is critical that the entire process is fast tracked with visible concrete outcomes.”

1). Which are the sectors that come under the purview of India Sanitation Coalition?

We at India Sanitation Coalition (ISC) work to support the country’s sanitation strategy – currently under the Swachh Bharat Mission, but also to help guide some key frameworks around the entire sanitation value chain – Build, Use, Maintain and Treat (BUMT). This is about, moving away from merely the provision of toilets but bringing attention to use of constructed toilets, their maintenance and the treatment of the waste. It is important to note here that ISC is not an implementing body in itself; rather it facilitates implementation by bringing all the players together.

Therefore, it is primarily the Sanitation sector with the required integration with other sectors like water, health, education, etc.

2).  What are the primary objectives of India Sanitation Coalition?

At ISC we recognize that there are strong players who have expertise in implementation, capacity building, and are repositories of knowledge. We are also aware that there are donors and corporates interested in funding the sanitation sector. That is where ISC steps in – bringing different players together to share their learning and expertise, to collaborate and partner, to leverage each other’s strengths in different geographies, and to synergize wherever possible. We build on this wealth of experience for everyone to gain, and support mechanisms that make it easier for various stakeholders to engage in the sanitation space. ISC is therefore a platform to empower, to act as a catalyst, galvanize stakeholders enabling all players to do their job better and support Government in its Mission. Doing so will help build a sustainable sanitation ecosystem. ISC maintains its focus on both rural and urban fronts.

We work actively to identify bankable projects that corporate partners can fund, in collaboration with strong implementation partners, as well as the government. We use the Coalition as an advocacy platform with the government around critical areas of quality control, attention to toilet usage, treatment of faeces, innovative ways to finance sanitation – household and district / municipal sanitation infrastructure which will ensure gender /class/caste inclusiveness.

We aim to create a strong marketplace where sanitation players can meet and collaborate, and also encourage sanitation entrepreneurship. In this process we aim to strengthen each part of the sanitation value chain. Sanitation services and products are important to ensure quality sanitation services and products are developed with strong market linkages to enable adequate supplies for ongoing, sustainable sanitation – especially for the under-served.sz achieve scalable, sustainable outcomes.

4).  As head of India Sanitation Coalition, what are your focus areas and what is the plan ahead to achieve an ODF India by 2019.

As part of forward planning, we aim to create more collaborative platforms. wherein we need to bring together different key players in the ecosystem like water, sanitation, health, food security etc. and drive collective efforts towards making a healthier India. One of the biggest challenges the sector is facing is unlocking the CSR funds for sanitation. This is in spite of the fact that numerous corporates are willing to invest in sanitation and even more implementers are willing to receive the funds! The biggest reason behind this has been the lack of clarity on the utilization of the funds. Corporates have their own reasons to ensure their branding as a small return on the investments. They also have justifications to invest in projects confined to a restricted geographical location. The important aspect is advocacy so that the government makes it easier for corporates to engage, and guide them by providing the right points of contact within the system, to cut through the red tape especially at the local levels.

It’s not just government-corporate but a 3-way partnership that is needed, and the third player here is the NGOs who understand the ground realities. Along the way, it is key to leverage each other’s strengths and build the capacity of parties like NGOs. The ISC intends to further strengthen those linkages among the different stakeholders. Through its extended membership base, ISC is working closely with the national and state governments for creating a platform for the same. With only two and half years left in the SBM, it is critical that the entire process is fast tracked with visible concrete outcomes.

5). Two Important factors in the sanitation objectives, include sustainable and usable toilets, the sanitary ware industry has a huge role to play in this aspect, what kind of support is being sought from the industry players in this segment?

The key beneficiaries in the sanitation mission are people who reside in rural areas and urban slums. Their financial capacities are understandably limited. Therefore, one expectation from the sanitary ware industry is to provide cost-effective materials to the beneficiaries.

Another important role which they can play is to improve the supply chain in terms of accessibility of the materials. Access to materials has been a big bottleneck in construction. It involves transportation of materials over a long distance which increases the overall cost.

6). What is your message to Tiles & Bath Industry players to play a role in this initiative?

This industry too needs to provide cost-effective materials along with playing an integral part in improving the supply chain. Also as part of corporate social responsibility, they need to invest more in sanitation and cleanliness along with spreading awareness.

It is important for tiles, bath and sanitary industries to engage with other players working in the sanitation space for greater collaborations and knowledge sharing. The India Sanitation Coalition can help in providing that platform to these industries.

7). What is the role of design in achieving better sanitation through better designed sPublic Toilets and Washrooms?

Design has a key role as it is directly linked to usage. It needs to be a combination of user friendliness and affordability. Public toilets and washrooms also need to have models which can cater to the differential needs of children, women, senior citizens and disabled population. For senior citizens and disabled people, the designs shouldn’t be restricted only to access sanitation facilities but also needs to cater to accessible water facilities for sanitation.

8). Please also give your message to Architects & Designers regarding designing keeping sanitation & maintenance in mind?

Simple message is to make designs appealing, hygienically clean and should be affordable. Designs need to be inclusive and customized to cater to different types of needs especially for senior citizens and disabled groups. Architects and designers need to build designs after consultation with community members so that their needs can be incorporated.

9).  What kind of awareness drives are happening towards the use of aerated faucets and taps? Please highlight other initiatives, if any.

Government, developmental organizations and corporates have started focusing on spreading the message of not wasting water. This includes one to one messaging, advertisements, etc. Most of the messages are general messages and I am not much aware of any particular focus on Taps and faucets. But the overall messages convey information about not wasting water through any source which includes taps and faucets.

10).  Please share some insights on the BUMT model and if there are some existing success stories.

ISC defines sustainable sanitation to include the entire value chain of Build, Use, Maintain and Treat (BUMT) and we strongly advocate that both the conversation and efforts around sanitation need to be viewed through this lens. The manifold benefits of sanitation can come only if the sanitation is safe and sustainable whose four phases are Build, Use, Maintain and Treat (BUMT).

As partners come together to support the country’s Swachh Bharat Mission, it’s important for all to understand what the essential good practices for each of the four phases are. These need to be part of the project design for all sanitation related interventions. Various partners at ISC have come together to create a ready-to-share BUMT Advocacy docket, with various materials as a part of it. ISC encourages all partners and stakeholders to leverage the docket and further share it with its networks.

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