Children singing to celebrate IYS
Orissa: The objective is clear and the task challenging, but Orissa is showing what it takes to make the mark. The significance of improving people’s access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation cannot be underestimated in a state where unacceptable levels of both infant and maternal mortality have remained a cause of deep concern for policy makers and development agencies alike. This is particularly significant when the whole world is observing 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation (IYS).
The stakes are high and as a state committed to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) relating to sanitation, Orissa has its task well cut out. With the overall sanitation coverage standing at just 30 percent, Orissa has an ambitious but achievable target of constructing a 5.2 million individual household toilets in the rural pockets under the TSC. Only about half of the schools – 34,368 against a target of 70,663 – in the state have sanitation facilities, while the objective is to cover all of them by 2009. With support from UNICEF, the Orissa Government is all set to achieve this goal.
The Orissa State Water and Sanitation Mission (OSWSM) in partnership with UNICEF has devised a collaborative approach termed ‘Sanjog’ under which five different administrative departments of the State Government have been brought on board. These five departments – Panchayati Raj, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, School and Mass Education and Rural Development – will lead the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), with their grassroots functionaries showing the way. This initiative was launched in 2007, but the IYS has provided it with the desired impetus to re-focus on sanitation and to align it with the campaign goals.
On 18 June, 2008, when the Orissa Government launched the state-level IYS Programme at Bhubaneswar, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik stressed that the mission of total sanitation has to be more broad-based involving all the line departments, and called for cooperation from all agencies including the self-help groups (SHGs). He declared the launch of a concerted awareness campaign to ensure that every household has access to a toilet by 2012.
UNICEF, which is already supporting the Orissa Government in its three flagship programmes – TSC, Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme and National Rural Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Programme – is assisting the OSWSM in achieving its target of bringing sanitation coverage to all the schools in the five backward districts of Koraput, Rayagada, Ganjam, Dhenkanal and Mayurbhanj that have been identified as ‘focus districts’.
The results are visible. In Koraput, sanitation coverage has jumped from one percent in 2003 to 28 percent in 2008. Similarly, in 2006, where there was just one application from the district for Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP) – the President’s award for achieving total sanitation – the following year there were six vying for the same honour. The goal is to achieve total sanitation in schools by the end of 2009.
While school sanitation has been making a slow but steady progress, the thrust now is to take the campaign to each home by involving women through the SHGs. Under the banner of ‘Mission Shakti’, an initiative of Orissa Government that promotes women empowerment through a series of social, education and health reforms, a minimum of 0.3 million SHGs are targeted to be a part of the sanitation mission, bringing to one platform over 3.3 million members. These groups are working with Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to stop open defecation, prepare community plans for safe water and sanitation, besides putting in place basic infrastructure and services. The whole idea, according to Mona Sharma, Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, is to accelerate TSC and make it demand-driven by bridging the gaps.
Matching the Orissa Government step-by-step in its initiatives, UNICEF is developing strategies that build the capacity of the community with women members playing a pivotal role, and setting up systems of accountability for sanitation practices in rural pockets so that successful models can be replicated.
Aidan Cronin of UNICEF Orissa commented: “IYS is giving sanitation the much needed publicity without which it might fall off the list of priorities of government and communities. It also gives a chance to say ‘yes, sanitation is important and this is why......’ It is also a chance to address a taboo subject and assert that it is right to promote toilet usage and speak openly about it. It is already having a positive impact in Orissa.”
In fact, so keen is the Orissa Government to ensure success of the total sanitation initiatives that it has planned to bring in legislation to bar aspiring candidates from contesting in panchayat elections if they do not have a toilet in their home.