Achieving Swachh Bharat: Required change in Mind – set for sustainability by Siddhartha Das

Sanitation in India has got unprecedented political attention and increasing resources have been allocated in the plans and budgets.  The Swachh Bharat Mission has given a great opportunity to elected representatives to commit to sanitation and accordingly to enhancing quality of life.

Sanitation in India has got unprecedented political attention and increasing resources have been allocated in the plans and budgets.  The Swachh Bharat Mission has given a great opportunity to elected representatives to commit to sanitation and accordingly to enhancing quality of life.

Safe sanitation leads to improved health indicators, potential increase in livelihood options and optimistically, a reduction in poverty. India accounts for 90 per cent of the people in South Asia and 59 per cent of the 1.1 billion people in the world who practise open defecation. Open defecation refers to the practice whereby people go out in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet to defecate. The practice is rampant in India and the country is home to the world’s largest population of people who defecate in the open and excrete close to 65,000 tonnes of faeces into the environment each day.

The central government has set aggressive targets for open-defecation free (ODF) communities, and the sector recognises the risk associated with the goal: the target may turn out to be mere construction, often without the desired quality and without adequate hygiene awareness to ensure use of facilities.  Despite making significant improvements in ensuring access to improved sanitation facilities (individual and shared toilets) in both rural and urban areas, India has the highest number of people (564 million;) who still defecate in the open.  This makes it clear that infrastructure alone cannot tackle the problem. 

Compelling Need for Sanitation

Lack of adequate sanitation facilities, results in increased health burdens and environmental costs. Today, one in every two Indians doesn’t have access to safe toilets, harming the health and well-being of Indians, especially children. Only 50 per cent of the total population in India have access to safe sanitation.Lack of toilets is compelling women and girls to defecate in the open which has a direct bearing to their dignity, health and security. It is estimated that every year approximately 186,000 children under 5 years of age die from diarrhoea in India. Improved sanitation can reduce child diarrhoea by 30 percent and increase school attendance among girls.

Better sanitation helps India maintain its polio-free status, reduces the incidence of diseases like cholera and typhoid, and will help make gains toward combating other neglected tropical diseases. Safe sanitation also reduces contamination of water sources. Appropriate systems for collection, conveyance, disposal of solid and liquid waste, and good hygiene practices (such as hand washing, safe use of latrines, menstrual hygiene management, safe handling, and storage of water and food) through appropriate Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) needs to be strengthened.

Sustainability Beyond Construction

Open defecation free (ODF) is more about hygiene behaviour change through continuous sensitisation rather than a mere construction of toilet buildings.  A concerted effort by government, WASH champions and other stakeholders is required in achieving this ambitious goal of complete ODF by 2019. The entire sector which includes the government is aware of the importance of behaviour change. Considerable discussions and deliberations have happened in this. However, the level of operationalisation has been limited, something which needs to be urgently addressed.

Also, Solid and Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) is one of the key components of SBM (Rural). Some of the core objectives of SBM is focussing on SLWM in order to achieve overall cleanliness. More than 60% rural households are not connected to clean drainage and only 6% are connected to clean drains. Most of the villages do not have proper facilities on solid waste and waste water management. 88% of total disease burden in rural areas is due to lack of proper facilities for SLWM. To have a holistic solution-oriented perspective, it is important to have an approach that integrates water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Solutions Through Collaboration

There is a wide spread and commonly held agreement that for the set goals to be more realistic, a robust planning, monitoring, and role clarity together with avoiding duplication is required. The goal set up at the national level needs to be adopted and further strengthened by all the state governments owing to the fact that Rural Sanitation is a state subject. Substantial funds have been allocated by the centre along with flexibility to states to also use funds from other sources.

Resource mobilization plans need to be developed and channeled properly to ensure a proper supply chain. Funds can be generated also in form of Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), loans and donations, MPLADS/MLALADS funds etc. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and PPP would be the prime source of funding to cover up the loose ends. Corporates can assist in covering the GPs for sanitation especially either directly or through CSR.  There is needs to sit back reflect and make a collective contribution to the plans and goals that were set in 2014.

One of the biggest challenges the sector is facing is unlocking the CSR funds for sanitation. This in spite of the fact that substantial corporates are willing to invest in sanitation and even more are willing to receive the funds! The biggest reason has been the lack of clarity of utilisation of the funds. Corporates have their own reasons to ensure their branding as a small return of the investments. They also have justifications to invest in projects confined to a restricted geographical location. 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.

The 3-way partnership is ideal, bringing in 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 India Sanitation Coalition (ISC) is playing a key role in facilitating 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.

The SBM is a programme with closely coordinated efforts by corporates, civil society and different ministries. ISC has created a platform in bringing players together to address this. Surely, continuing coordinated efforts will ensure universal access to sanitation in time, and benefit large sections of society which especially includes girls, women and the disabled.

Siddhartha Das is the Program Leader of the India Sanitation Coalition

  1. Source: UNICEF
  2. Source: UNICEF
  4. Source : UNICEF
  5.  Source: MDWS workshop report on SLWM).

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