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Sanitation challenges: Govt not well equipped, say experts

Apr 21, 2015

According to experts, the Indian government’s flagship Clean India campaign would not deliver results without an integrated approach.

New Delhi: The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or the Clean India Campaign pursued by the Indian Prime Minister could prove to be a damp squib unless it is fortified by capacity building which is very crucial for an enabling environment to promote adoption of a complete water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) ecosystem in India, said experts in New Delhi.

Speaking at a conference on stimulating behavior change and usage for sanitation, representatives from the civil society and the corporate sector along with the practitioners unanimously advocated for an integrated strategy with a mix of policy prescriptions and behavior change initiatives.

Upneet Singh, Water and Sanitation Specialist, World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme, said that information and communications technologies (ICTs) could play a major role in bridging the gap. “There is a huge potential to use ICTs for taking the sanitation campaign from the output level to the outcome level. There is also a need for an annual outline survey on the sanitation front,” she said.

Nonprofits like the OneWorld Foundation India have pioneered the use of ICTs for tracking sanitation behavior and monitoring construction of toilets, a focus area of the Swachh Bharat campaign.

Divyang Waghela of the Ratan Tata Trust highlighted the need for looking at the gap areas and devising integrated solutions.

Speaking on the occasion, USAID deputy mission director, Kathryn Stevens, urged for bringing all the players together with a single minded purpose. “About 65 million people in India are living without adequate water-and-sanitation facilities. Private sector can lead the behavior change coalition,” she said.

Madhu Krishna, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said that absence of service chain for the disposal of solid human waste is big challenge. “There is a need for non-sewered solutions for fecal sludge management. Dumping the sludge directly into our environment is not a sustainable way of waste disposal,” she said.

Pratima Joshi, the executive director and founder of Shelter Associates, a Maharashtra-based NGO that supports informal settlements for the urban poor, said that urban slums exist in the form of an environmental, social and security time bomb.

Nitya Jacob, head of policy at WaterAid, an international NGO that helps to provide water and sanitation to poor communities, shared his experience of using hygiene as a tool for inducing behavior change. There is a need for mainstreaming WASH into people’s agenda, he said.

“Government agencies like the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) are not well equipped to handle the sanitation challenges that persist in the country. Schemes for housing and toilets need to converge for better results,” Jacob said.

“In India, urban slums house around a hundred million people. This population is equal to the twelfth largest country of the world. The sanitation campaign in these areas could only be successful with stakeholder engagement including the municipal authorities and the communities,” Pratima said.

The conference was organised by the University of Chicago Centre in New Delhi in partnership with the University of Chichago, Booth School of Business’s Social Enterprise Initiative, Samhita Social Ventures and nonprofit Toilet Hackers.

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