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Sustaining Rural Sanitation: 5 Ways To Keep The Sanitation Clock Ticking In Rural India

From participation of other ministries to utilising sanitation as a profitable business model, several steps can be taken to ensure that sanitation practices remain sustained in rural India

  • Other ministries like Railways should participate in the sanitation mission
  • Piped water supply in ODF villages is a must to ensure usage of toilets
  • Sanitation will become sustainable if people begin to profit from it

In Khulri village, situated in Madhya Pradesh’s Narsinghpur district, zilla officials were at a loss of ideas. The district officials had collaborated with NGOs and self-help groups to construct toilets in the village from January to March 2017, which has a population of 4,550 residents. Despite the construction of toilets, the district officials were unable to convince the villagers to use them. The villagers were habituated to defecating in the open and had done so all their lives. They also asked the officials why they would waste litres of water in toilets, if small quantities would suffice when they defecated in the open. The district officials had to ultimately resort to a host of cultural programmes such as plays and songs to promote the benefits of toilet usage and gradually helped the villagers realise why toilets are important.

The pertinence of questions asked by Khulri’s residents raises some important points with regard to India’s rural sanitation scenario. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has managed to increase the national sanitation coverage to 63.76 per cent from 41.92 per cent in October, 2014. But sanitation experts have consistently asked whether the rapid pace of building toilets would lead to the sustainable sanitation practices in rural India. In villages in India, where open defecation was widespread has undergone a rapid change in the past 3 years as eradicating open defecation has been prioritised by the Union and State governments. What should be looked at now is to sustain the practices of healthy sanitation to keep the Swachh Bharat mission up and running.

Participation Of Ministries

Several ministries are participating to sustain the sanitation campaign

Several ministries are participating to sustain the sanitation campaign

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Gramin) is being monitored by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. But India’s vast rural area and population makes it difficult for a single ministry and its officials to monitor a programme at such a large scale. Other ministries too ought to take up the agenda of Swachh Bharat to ensure that the practice of building and using toilets is sustained in rural India. The Union Government has already mandated other ministries to come up with Swachhta plans of their own. 36 ministries have already put forward their Swachhta plans and cumulatively raised an amount of Rs. 5,000 crores. Ministries such as Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Environment and Forest have anchoring roles to play in ensuring sustenance of the sanitation mission.

Ensuring Piped Water Supply

Piped water supply encourages the act of hand washing post defecation

Piped water supply encourages the act of hand washing post defecation

A newly constructed toilet is of no use if piped water supply is not present in it. Piped water supply encourages the act of hand washing post defecation. Diarrhoea, which is responsible for 13 child deaths every hour in India, is a commonly caused due to lack of water for cleaning up, post defecation. Piped water supply in toilets will ensure that the habit of using toilets for defecation gets ingrained in inhabitants of rural India. All states and union territories have been asked to prioritise the supply of piped water to villages which have become open defecation free. There are 79,946 ODF verified villages in the country with 2,23,487 habitations out of which 1,61,543 habitations are covered with Piped Water Supply, accounting for about 72 per cent. Piped water supply must be as equal a priority as toilet construction as the usage of a toilet depends on how much water supply is available.

Ensuring Community Led Total Sanitation

Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach brings together the village for a common goal of eradicating open defecation

CLTS approach brings together the village for a common goal of eradicating open defecation

Rural sanitation efforts cannot be complete if community participation is not present at all levels. Many district officials are partnering with NGOs and self-help groups (SHGs) to bring together communities in villages and encourage them to participate. Right from conducting awareness campaigns on the necessity of toilets to asking them to voluntarily participate in the gathering of materials and construction of toilets, a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach brings together the village for a common goal of eradicating open defecation.

We conducted regular door-to-door campaigns to convince people to work together with us in constructing the toilets. People from all sections of the village participated in the gathering of materials and the building efforts. The CLTS approach made it easier for us to work together as the participation level was high, said Vivek Yadav, Disctrict Collector of Vizianagaram, who oversaw the building of 10,000 toilets in the district in 100 hours.

Ensuring Behavioural Change

Performance artists can bring about behavioural change in people

Performance artists can bring about behavioural change in people

Open defecation is a practice that has been existent in India for decades and along with building toilets, behavioural change is also necessary. Behavioural change with regard to sanitation will only come when people have a proper understanding of why open defecation could lead to health hazards and how using toilets for sanitation purposes decreases hygiene risks. Behavioural change could also be brought about by conducting campaigns on sanitation which address the core issues of sanitation, including chapters on sanitation in school curriculums, training NGOs and self-help groups to popularise the core concepts of the Swachh Bharat Mission and spread the sanitation message via performance artists. All of these can lead to gradual change in sanitation behaviour in rural India, which can then be passed on to forthcoming generations.

Making Profits From Sanitation

Sanitation and waste management can become profitable businesses

Sanitation and waste management can become profitable businesses

Toilets, both their construction and maintenance are often seen as a financial burden by many in rural areas. For people living below the poverty line, open defecation is a preferred choice compared to investing Rs. 20,000 in a toilet and incurring additional expenses from time to time for maintenance. But if these toilets can become income generators for rural households, it becomes beneficial for them financially and they would look forward to installing toilets.

The sanitation scenario in rural India is yet to fully utilise its commercial potential. Faecal sewage and wastewater can be sold for commercial purposes. If microfinance institutions can lend small amounts to rural households, the commercialisation of sanitation and waste can begin from rural India itself, says Vedika Bhandarkar, Managing Director (India),

Faecal sewage can be composted and turned into manure, which can be sold commercially. Investment from private sector companies and adequate financial help from microfinance institutions can truly revolutionise the sanitation industry in rural India.

Also Read: Looking For Profit: Can Sanitation And Waste Management Become Sustainable Business Models?

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