India has a wealth of experience in water and sanitation (WAS) given over two decades of intervention by the Union Government, UNICEF and other agencies. It also has a legacy of traditional water and sanitation systems. So it has many lessons in technology and social involvement to offer WAS experts from abroad.
UNICEF, the Government of India and the states of West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh organized a 12-day International Learning Exchange in Water and Sanitation (ILEX) to provide a platform to exchange notes, including experiences from foreign visitors.
ILEX coordinator Sumita Ganguly says the programme was conceived a year ago in response to an increasing number of requests for field visits by UNICEF offices abroad. Around 50 people applied from UNICEF and its partner organizations in seven countries. 45 were chosen and divided into three modules.
Module B was Schools as Partners in Sanitation and Hygiene: experiences in Ecosan. Module C was Accelerating Rural Sanitation: Systems and Institutions, and Module D Wise Water Management.
Module C visited West Bengal and Maharashtra to get a first-hand view of the institutions and systems involved in the design and delivery of water and sanitation programmes. The focus was more on sanitation, with water taking a back seat.
In West Bengal, the emphasis was on construction of toilets because there was a pressing need to check open defecation. The State Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) personnel has identified this as the single biggest cause of rampant water-borne diseases that kill infants and young children, and many millions lost man-days of work.
TSC coordinator S K Chattopadhyay says Bengal has propagated the Medinipur Model that involves building community awareness through folk media and IEC material to generate a demand. NGOs run rural sanitary marts that provide a one-stop shop for toilets and other WAS-related needs.
The government and lead NGO in the programme, the Ramakrishna Mission Lokashiksha Parishad (RKMLP), have developed campaign material and toilet designs. Implementation is decentralized, through the marts and motivators at the village level. Panchayati Raj Institutions play a critical role in mobilizing villagers for TSC.
Consultant for Water and Sewage in Iraq, Jawad-El-Abdul Rasool, one of the ILEX participants, felt the programme was incomplete because it did not include hygiene and total sanitation. It needed to be reviewed after a year so that additional elements can be added. Devnet representative from Jharkhand, Amarendar Kumar, said this was an excellent opportunity to see how all stakeholders – political parties, PRIs, NGOs and the government – work together.
The four-day field trip included visits to six villages in the East Medinipur and Haora districts in West Bengal and to the RKMLP campus in Kolkata, presentations by the state Principal Secretary for Panchayats and Rural Development, the Collectors of the districts, as well as PRI members. However, as Eritrean delegate Binyiri Mathew Koma said, participants would have liked to see more implementation activities, in addition to official briefings.
Burkina Faso’s Josephine Amedee Quedraogo said she would have liked to understand how the models could be applied to a dry area, as West Bengal is a very wet state. She did, however, find the method of removing arsenic from drinking water, developed by RKMLP, very useful.
Superintending Engineer, PHED, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, R P Sharma, felt the process of social mobilization was successful and critical to TSC.
In Maharashtra, the team had briefings from top government officials and district Panchayat heads. They visited another six villages in the Pune and Satara districts. State TSC coordinator Mallinath Kalshetti and state UNICEF chief Satish Mendiratta designed the programme.
The visited villages have implemented a more comprehensive hygiene programme than in West Bengal. They have solid waste management systems, recycle waste water for use in gardens and horticulture, use wind and solar energy to light up common spaces, generate biogas from human waste collected in community toilets and of course, toilets for individual and community use. The programme is completely driven by village Panchayats with government, UNICEF and NGOs playing a more peripheral role.
Team members were struck by the contrast between West Bengal and Maharashtra, especially the sanitation and hygiene measures that Maharashtra’s villages have put in place. Local government bodies are more active. The cement toilets also stood out in contrast with Bengal’s low-cost, temporary structures. However, all team members understood the difference in economic levels of the two states.
ILEX provided all 45 participants a ringside view of WAS activities from the state to the village level. It provided a sound understanding of processes and institutions involved, and underlined the fact that successful programmes have to be decentralized, use appropriate local technology, and be demand-driven.
Participants also got an opportunity at the concluding New Delhi session to share their experiences. ILEX gave both Indian and foreign delegates to learn about country programmes from each other.