Water and Sanitation
Proper drinking water and sanitation facilities are essential for human survival as well as healthy and dignified living in rural as well as urban settings. Proper drinking water means water which is available in adequate quantity round the year in qualitative and safe manner and does not have visible impurities, high level dissolved salts, fluoride content, etc. which can cause several diseases and death as well. Proper sanitation, on the other hand, includes aspects related with personal, domestic as well community hygiene which includes access to WASH facilities, proper waste disposal, and abidance to proper hygiene habits.They are inter-related because availability of water is essential for making WASH facilities functional; and on the other hand, improper disposal of waste water is a big cleanliness issue and can result in spread of fatal diseases like cholera, malaria, diarrhea etc.
Realizing the importance of water and sanitation, ‘Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ has been adopted as Goal 6 under the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations. Government of India has also undertaken these two necessities on priority and has initiated flagship programmes like Jal Jeewan Mission (JJM), Swachchh Bhaarat Mission (SBM), etc. Still we find that availability of safe drinking water continues to be challenge in almost all parts of our country and situation becomes worse during the summer season. People have to go a long way and stand in long queues to fetch water for the family. On the other hand, we find wastage of water wherever it is available. Toilets have been constructed because of SBM but in the absence of water, they are not being used and defecation in open is still prevalent.
The issue affects women and girls more. Because of gender based discrimination, fetching of drinking water is considered as job of women or girls. Also absence of proper sanitation facilities affects them more severely because defecation in open poses risk of abuse to them. In the absence of separate toilets for girls in schools, many of them drop out from education. Prayatn’s interventions on Water and Sanitation have focused upon community awareness building together with development and strengthening of community based institutions like Village Development Committees (VDC) to increase demand for WASH facilities and services. Related statutory based democratic institutions like Village Water, Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Committees (VWHSNC), School Management Committees and Panchayati Raj Institutions are also being strengthened in this process. At the same time, we are extending support to schools, Anganwadis, etc. for WASH related infrastructural development as well as improving their services. Linkage of eligible families with related government schemes was also a part of this process.
Availability of adequate and safe drinking water is being ensured through community awareness building on its importance as well as processes like testing of quality of water. Village Development Committees developed are encouraged to resolve water related issues by including them in Village Development Plan preparation process and accessing government schemes for the resolution. Proper management of drinking water facilities, that are already available or are developed afresh through community contribution (like Jal Minar, handpumps, etc.), is ensured through formation of user groups like Jal Minar Samities. Availability of drinking water in institutions like schools and Anganwadis is ensured through repair and retrofitting support, installation of water filters, etc., and making children aware of their proper use.
Jal Minar is a kind of Overhead tank constructed in villages where drinking water problem is found for storage and supply of drinking water to the entire village or specific habitations of deprived communities. The overhead tank is fitted with solar energy powered pump which is used to fill the tank using ground or surface water as per availability. To make accessing water easy, multiple tap points are provided at different locations and the same are linked with the overhead tanks. A users committee called Jal Minar Samiti is developed at village to ensure judicious use of the precious resource by developing indigenous systems and mechanisms which include user charges, time limitation, penalty on wastage, etc. Women are encouraged to become members of these committees as they are the prime users.
In all the villages where Prayatn is intervening, collectives of adults called Village Development Committee (the name may vary keeping local context in mind) is developed. The committee is expected to develop Village Development Micro-plan at the beginning of the year with the participation of all the villagers, identify their issues, prioritize them and develop time-bound plan for resolving them by dividing responsibilities within themselves. The execution of the plan is followed in the subsequent VDC meetings on regular basis and the progress is reviewed at the end of the year when the entire process is redone and new plan is developed for remaining and new issues that are identified. Issue of safe drinking water receives prominent reflection in these plans as it affects life of everyone. From submitting collective application to Panchayati Raj institutions under applicable government programmes like Jal Jeewan Mission to proper management of the available resources through development of indigenous systems and mechanisms, different types of actions are planned and executed through this process to resolve the issues keeping local situation in mind.
In places like Baran district of Rajasthan and Rayagada district of Odisha, we have developed surface and ground water harvesting structures like open wells, anicuts, check dams, etc. While the prime purpose of these structures was to provide water for irrigation, these structures helped in providing drinking water for humans as well as animals, especially during dry season. They also helped in recharging ground water for this purpose.
In many of the villages, schools and Angawadis, quality of drinking water was found to be big issue. In such locations, the water filtration equipment, including Reverse Osmosis (RO) based filtration facilities, were installed. School staff, children as well as community members were made aware of their maintenance process and encouraged to develop indigenous systems and mechanisms for the same.
Prayatn’s interventions in the context of safe sanitation have varied from developing WASH infrastructure at community and institutional level through linkage with government schemes like Swachchh Bharat Mission and undertaking construction or repair of such facilities on our own to ensuring community awareness building and behavior change in this regard through awareness campaigns, regular awareness sessions during meetings of community based organizations as well as counseling of individual families. In this process, the contemporary context of COVID 19 pandemic has also been included because practices like regular hand sanitization have become important. We also addressed sanitation requirements of women and adolescent girls by promoting use of sanitary pads and ensuring supply of the same even during the pandemic.
In communities like Sahariya tribe, where literacy and awareness is low, the awareness of members includingmen, women as well as children about proper hygiene is low. We see that community members do not take bath and wash their hands regularly. They defecate in open and do not maintain hygiene while handling drinking water. Domestic/community waste is not disposed properly. To change such habits, various measures are adopted for awareness and behavior change. These include household visits and individual counseling, collective counseling during meetings of community based institutions, demonstration of proper ways of handwashing and other hygiene related practices, awareness campaigns, development and use of communication material for this purpose. Tracking of behavioural change, using systematic tools developed for this purpose, is also done on regular basis to understand the existing situation and change that is taking place because of our efforts.
Adolescent girls and women in reproductive age-group need to pay special attention to reproductive health and hygiene especially during menstruation but they lack proper awareness in this regard because of which risk of reproductive tract infections becomes high. So, we undertake special counseling sessions with them taking health workers like ANM, Anganwadi worker, ASHA, etc. together. In particular, we encourage use of sanitary pads and make them aware of its availability through Anganwadis and schools. During lockdown and subsequent restrictions because of COVID 19, when the supply of these pads was affected, we bridged the supply gap by procuring and supplying the same free of cost through our own resources to the Anganwadis as well as the women and adolescent girls directly.
Many of the schools and Anganwadis do not have proper WASH facilities like toilets, handwashing units, etc. Either they are not constructed at all or have been ruined in the absence of proper maintenance. In case of States like Odisha, natural calamities like cyclones also damage WASH infrastructure. Since, government alone is unable to fulfill this gap on its own; we supported renovation, repair and refurbishment of them free of cost. New units have also been erected if there were no such facilities earlier or when repair was not feasible. Community toilets/bathrooms have also been constructed at village level wherever required. The ownership and maintenance of these facilities has been handed over to the institutions or the community after due awareness generation about the importance of the same.
Statutory community based institutions like Village Water, Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Committees (VWHSNC), School Management Committees (SMC) and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) are also being strengthened in bringing behavior change in the committee as well as developing infrastructure for the purpose through public resources. However, they are not aware of the gravity of the issue and their own role in addressing the same. Bodies like VWHSNCs and SMCs are not even formed and functional in many of the villages/schools. To address this aspect, the organization has facilitated formation of these bodies as well as built capacity of the members on the issue and their own role.
Government of India has initiated programmes like Jal Jeewan Mission and Swachchh Bhaarat Mission to make the country open defecation free and developing hygiene related habits in people. We have extended all possible support in making such initiatives successful. Even when COVID pandemic broke out, communication of common messages like regular handwashing was undertaken by us after taking permission and support from the government.