By Alka Gupta
New Delhi - September 18,2007: They have come from Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal... Eighty one delegates from twenty countries across the world are gathered in India to learn from her experiences as part of the Second International Learning Exchange Program (ILE) 2007 in water, sanitation and hygiene.
Lighting the ceremonial lamp, Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Minister for Rural Development, Government of India said “Today, 90 percent of our rural population has access to safe drinking water and 48 percent of our rural population has access to toilets and sanitation services. A revolution in the sanitation sector has increased coverage from 1 percent coverage in 1981 to 48 percent coverage in 2007 making it possible for India to achieve the MDG in sanitation ahead of schedule.”
Welcoming the delegates, Lizette Burgers, the Chief of Water and Sanitation (WES) UNICEF India emphasized the seriousness of the issue. She said, “Despite the globe getting increasingly prosperous and interconnected, far too many children die for lack of clean water and toilet than from any other cause.”
She pointed out that India is implementing one of the largest national water supply and sanitation programmes in the world with annual resource allocation of more than US $ 1.3 billion leading to scaling up of many programmes in this sector. India in line with its size offers vast learning opportunities in this sector covering a range of issues.
ILE 2007 is a collaborative effort between UNICEF India Country Office, UNICEF WES New York and the Department of Drinking Water Supply, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.
Organized from 18th – 28th September, 2007, the ILE delegates broken up into groups will travel to 2 states each on an 8 day field visit. The states being visited are West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
The five learning modules to be looked at this year include:
· Accelerating Rural Sanitation
· Water and School Hygiene
· Arsenic Mitigation- Challenges & Opportunities
· Wise Water Management & Fluorosis Mitigation
Addressing the inaugural function Mr. Cecilio Adorna, Representative for UNICEF India said, ““The water and sanitation sector in India has made rapid progress. It has demonstrated an excellent model as a result of which it is possible to achieve 100 percent sanitation in India. The International Learning Exchange Programme offers a unique opportunity to gain insights and enrich understanding about progress in this sector not only in India but in other developing countries as well.”
The water and sanitation programme in India has been restructured to empower the local self governments to achieve programme goals. More than 5700 Panchayati Raj Institutions have received the Nirmal Gram Puruskar so far.
Shri Prakash Singh, Panchayat President of Jalilpur Gram Panchayat in Chandauli district of Uttar Pradesh is one of the Panchayat Presidents who has led his village to become open defecation free. Addressing the delegates at the inaugural function he said,” The role of the grassroots functionary in the villages is crucial in sanitation and hygiene promotion. If properly empowered they can achieve the programme goals.”
The inaugural event set the tone for the exchange and learning that is to follow in the next 2 weeks. Delegates joined in the energetic Punjabi ‘bhangra’ dance at the pre inaugural dinner, learning and moving in step to the Indian music.