Water, Sanitation, Health and Hygiene (WASH) are the most fundamental necessities along with Food, Clothing and Shelter. The latest estimates by UNICEF show that some 3 in 10 people worldwide, or 2.1 billion, lack access to safe, readily available water. 6 in 10, or 4.5 billion, lack safely managed sanitation.
Lack of these basic necessities for a large number of people in our country has resulted in poor human development. This invariably leads to gaping social and economic inequalities.
We believe that in India cannot achieve sustainable development of any kind unless the problem of WASH is solved.
WASH In India
The World Bank estimates that 21 percent of communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices. Further, more than 500 children under the age of five die each day from diarrhea in India alone. In India, 163M people lack access to safe drinking water and over 210M lack access to improved sanitation. For a country of 1 billion, a staggering 522 million people practice open defecation.
Problems in WASH
- Lack of a hygiene-driven mindset and awareness
A study showed that people perceive hand washing as a behaviour of the rich.
Lack of awareness towards hygiene is the primary roadblock faced by the government as well as social entrepreneurs. No disruption can be successful when there is a mental block and a resistance to change for the better. At the BoP, the target community is marred by age-old customs and social norms. This hinders people from talking about the need for hygiene and accepting new developments.
Simple things like, not defecating in open, washing hands with soap before every meal, using clean water, following hygienic sanitation practices are a matter of acceptance. And that will come when the targeted community is open to it.
- Inadequate sanitation systems and pure water sources
More than 50% of the country’s population still defecates in the open, contaminating the groundwater and the water bodies. According to UNDP, 75 million Indians lack access to safe drinking water.
When India started working towards the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, The Swachh Bharat Mission was put in place with multiple goals of WASH. One of which is building 112M toilets for BoP in India by 2019. Right now, the success rate stands at 12M built toilets.
- Improper waste management
When raw fecal sludge is extracted from toilet pits, its disposal is frequently hazardous for both those who empty the pits and for the environment, resulting in “deferred open defecation” or dumping sludge in water bodies and public spaces. Improper waste management promotes spread of bacteria into the atmosphere, groundwater bodies, eventually affecting the health of those living around.
- Lack of collaboration between government programs and the end community
Through Swachh Bharat Mission, the Government is trying to make more toilets and hygienic conditions for people living at the BoP. But, the backward mindset and lack of awareness hinder their contribution towards welcoming this change. Communities fall back whereas their co-operation is the key to spreading impact.
We Need Both Innovation And Positive Intervention In WASH
WASH is a key determinant of the health. Poor hygiene and sanitation are major contributors to diarrhea, respiratory infections and water-borne diseases. Innovation in WASH is the need of the hour for India to achieve her sustainable development goals. However, many a times, people come up with innovations to solve a problem, in this case, building toilets or installing water tanks, dams etc. But, the core problem does not get addressed. Physical, on-ground innovations are of little usefulness if the intended community doesn’t have the drive to accept and change their lives for better.
Kim Lemme, of Water for People, made a fair point on this when she said,
“Historically, the water and sanitation sector has focused a lot on hardware because it’s easy to count the number of people impacted by new water or sanitation infrastructure: These many people got toilets. These many people got access to water, but those numbers do not reflect whether those people will use the toilets.”
Gender Centric Programs
Change in behaviour and a shift in mindset is the first step towards ensuring a developed WASH system in India. Programs can be organised to open space for real support to women. Gender discrimination is strong in sanitation programs. First, the demand for sanitation tends to be greater among women, while men tend to decide on the design of facilities and, in the family, on sanitation investments.
Technical orientation, as well as decision-making points about technology and design, should specifically be aimed at women as well as men. A second gender difference is that women bear most of the workload for managing sanitation/hygiene at home. All the WASH initiatives including Swachh Bharat Mission should include specific communication to stimulate greater sharing of household work between women and men.
WASH innovation cannot work in a silo. It needs to work in tandem with positive interventions like awareness through seminars and village level events to help people become more vocal about their problems and make the impact more sustainable. It is the community that makes up a fruitful ecosystem of development in WASH.
“We can have a big party and cut a ribbon and take a lot of pictures and then move on, but unless that ecosystem is in place to actually support that infrastructure we’re not really guaranteeing that the system will last over time,” – Kim.
Cover image source: Soap Box Co-operative