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UN awards Indian water and sanitation body

May 15, 2009

Water and Sanitation Management Organisation, a state government entity in India, has been honoured with the UN Public Service Award for encouraging community involvement in managing local water sources and environmental sanitation. Over 4,000 villages have been fully equipped with sustainable water supply systems till date.

Gujarat, India: The air was charged with excitement in the office of the Water and Sanitation Management Organisation (WASMO) after the recent announcement that it had won the prestigious UN Public Service Award for ‘fostering participation in policy-making decisions through innovative mechanisms.’

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The award for 2009 will be formally presented in a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York next month.

“The day is not far when Gujarat will turn the corner by becoming a water-secure state, from a water scarce state,” said Dr. Yogendra Mathur, Chief of Field Office for UNICEF Gujarat, which is supporting WASMO’s efforts.

A model of innovation

WASMO has come a long way since 2002, when it was established by the Government of Gujarat to facilitate decentralised, community-driven water supply and sanitation programmes in rural areas.

What began amidst concerns about water scarcity in the state – and the need to ensure a sustainable drinking-water supply – has evolved into a model of innovation driven by community involvement in villages across Gujarat.

"Our mission is to work towards drinking-water security and habitat improvement”

“WASMO began its work in 82 villages in Bhavnagar district. Today, we are proud to have expanded this innovation to more than 14,000 villages,” said WASMO Project Director R.K. Sama. “By empowering communities to manage their local water sources, drinking-water supply and environmental sanitation, our mission is to work towards drinking-water security and habitat improvement.”

A ‘Pani Samiti’ – a local committee on water and sanitation – is a prerequisite for WASMO to help provide a sustainable water supply system in a village. Because women are the most affected by lack of access to safe water, WASMO has made special efforts to involve them in the day-to-day functioning of the Pani Samitis. As a result, 2,800 Pani Samitis are headed by women, and around 42,700 women are members of these committees.

Meeting community need

The hallmark of WASMO’s work is creating a genuine demand for water management solutions that are specific to community needs. The organisation has adopted a variety of technologies to provide safe water in rural areas – all with the ultimate aim of improving services and encouraging local residents to sustain the systems.

WASMO uses participatory planning to assess villages’ specific water needs. Intensive information, education and communication activities – including street theatre, school programmes, women’s activities and ‘Gram Sabhas’, or village meetings – raise awareness of the importance of community-managed water supply systems.

Since these innovations began, more than 4,000 villages have completed installation of improved water supply systems, with 90 % of them opting for house-to-house water connections. Another 3,000 villages’ systems are in various stages of completion. To date, the government has invested $177 million for implementation of water supply schemes through WASMO, while the communities themselves have contributed $17 million.

“By end of 2008, every second rural home had a water connection at their doorstep, and by 2011 it is expected that two out of three rural households will have the same facility,” said WASMO Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jaipal Singh.

NGO and private-sector partners

To facilitate the process of social mobilisation and empowerment that equips each community to own and maintain its water supply, WASMO has partnered with 75 non-governmental organisations and other civil society groups. Private Indian companies have also joined hands with WASMO to support water projects in areas adjacent to their factories and beyond.

“Our hope is that by 2012, all the 18,062 villages in the state will have community-owned, safe and sustainable drinking-water supply system”

UNICEF has worked closely with WASMO from the start, providing technical assistance and building the capacity of its personnel and support agencies.

“Our hope is that by 2012, all the 18,062 villages in the state will have a community-owned and managed, safe and sustainable drinking-water supply system,” said the WASMO Project Manager, Sama. Besides improving water security, he added, these systems will “free women from the drudgery of fetching water from far-flung areas to meet the needs of their families.”

Source : UNICEF
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