A Rural Sanitation Model That Works

A woman collects the drinking water from the third tap in Simlipadar village in Thuamul Rampur, Kalahandi | Picture courtesy: Ajaya Behera

Raibari Bewa standing near the toilet, bathroom unit and
collecting water from the third tap in Dudukaguda village, in
Thuamul Rampur block, Kalahandi district of Odisha. On the walls,
details of Swachh Bharat Mission benefits availed by her in Odia |
Picture courtesy: Ajaya Behera

By Liby Johnson
BHUBANESWAR, Odisha, India, Jul 30 2019 (IPS)

Research and experience across more than two decades in rural
Odisha, India, show that an effective rural sanitation model
requires both financial assistance and an integrated water

There are studies and field reports that have analysed
the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in terms of coverage and use of
toilets in rural India. The official government survey, the
, shows that 93 percent of rural households have access
to a toilet and 96 percent of those having a toilet use
them. Critiques of
the survey point out the contradictions between NARSS and
micro-level assessments in different parts of
India. Other studies point
out issues related to how comprehensive the approach to sanitation
needs to be, if SBM is to truly address the large scale problems of
ill-health, malnutrition, and poor quality of life caused by poor
sanitation practices.

The Ministry of
Drinking Water and Sanitation
has already issued guidelines for
follow-up components, such as the ‘Advisory
on ODF Sustainability interventions
‘. It is quite likely that
with the Prime Minister and his government taking charge for the
second term, the sustainability of the first generation SBM efforts
will be given high priority. In this context, it is pertinent to
throw light on some micro–level issues, based on more than two
decades of experience in rural Odisha.


A rural sanitation model that works

Gram Vikas, the
organisation I lead, started its work in rural sanitation in the
year 1994. Our model of 100 percent coverage of all households in
a village, all of them building and using
household level toilets and a bathing room with piped water
supply, has been recognised as a best practice nationally and globally.

Infrastructure alone is insufficient to sustain health benefits.
Additional efforts are needed to motivate people to adopt safe
sanitation practices…There are other aspects of personal hygiene
and sanitation, including personal habits, disposal of child
faeces, and menstrual hygiene; these need to be addressed by
demonstrating workable models, accompanied by education

The integrated water, sanitation, and hygiene (WSH) intervention
that we support rural communities with, is built on the following

  • Participation of 100 percent of
    the habitation’s households; it is all, or none.
  • Cost sharing by the household, partially towards construction
    of the facilities, and fully for operations and maintenance.
  • Ownership and management by a village water and sanitation
    committee, consisting of representatives of all sections in the
  • A sanitation corpus fund built from a one-time
    contribution by all, towards providing cash incentives for future
    families in the village to build toilets and bathing rooms
    (ensuring 100 percent coverage at all times).
  • A maintenance fund through regular household fee collection,
    for maintenance of the piped water supply system.

In 25 years (up to March 2019), the Gram Vikas WSH model has
been implemented in more than 1,400 villages, covering close to
90,000 households. The villages are financed primarily through
the sanitation and rural drinking water schemes of the government,
and Gram Vikas has mobilised private resources to fill in


What we learnt

Over the past two decades, working with rural communities
of different types, we have realised that bringing about
attitudinal and behaviour changes towards safe sanitation is not
easy. When we began in the mid-1990s, saying that every house in
the village will have toilets, bathing rooms, and piped water,
most people laughed.

Between 1994 and 1999, we could cover only 30
villages—this resulted from our own efforts at motivating
people, and not any felt desire on their part. Then started the
gradual process of change—fathers of unmarried girls motivating
future sons-in-laws’ village elders to take up the sanitation
project; women taking the lead to convince their men to build
toilets, and even stopping cooking for a day or two to make their
husbands see reason; migrants who worked outside Odisha coming back
to their own villages and motivating their parents, and so on.


When it comes to rural
sanitation, government financial assistance

Between 1999 and 2007, the government’s support to
sanitation, as part of the then newly launched Total
Sanitation Campaign
, was INR 300 per household, for below
poverty line families. Support for community-led, piped water
supply projects came much later, in the form of Swajaldhara in

The prevalent thinking among policy makers in the early 2000s
was that financial incentives were not necessary to promote rural
sanitation. This was based on the limited success of the
Central Rural Sanitation Programme
, that ran between 1986 and

Financial incentives to rural households for building
toilets is more than a subsidy, it’s about society meeting
part of the costs of helping rural communities build a better
life. To compare, urban dwellers who may have built their own
household toilets, do not pay anything for removing the human
waste from their premises; municipal governments ensure sewage
lines and treatment plants. The cost of this (which is borne by
the government) is not seen as a subsidy. And yet, the upfront
payment made to rural households to help build toilets is looked
down upon as wasteful expenditure.

In 2011, the policy moved to a higher level of financial
incentives to rural households for constructing individual
household latrines, mostly likely in recognition of the fact that
rural households needed the financial incentive as motivation to
change sanitation behaviours. But today, with statistics showing
93 percent or more coverage of toilets, the policy prescription
is likely to move to the pre-2011 phase–big financial incentives
are not needed for building rural household toilets.

Our experience has taught us that nothing can be further
from the truth. First, actual coverage of usable toilets is
likely much less than what the numbers show. Second,
households will need support for repairs and upgradation of the
already built latrines. In addition, there are two categories for
whom the financial assistance must continue: those who, for
various reasons, have not constructed latrines so far; and new
households that have come up in villages that have already
been declared open defecation free (ODF).


Availability of water in the toilet is critical to
encouraging use and maintenance of the facility 

In most cases, where water is not available in proximity, the
load on women to carry water has increased. A pour-flush latrine,
the type mostly preferred, requires at least 12 litres of water per
use. With 4-5 members in the household, the minimum daily
requirement becomes about 60 litres, forcing women to collect at
least three times the water they would otherwise collect. We
have observed
that without water in the household premises, women’s water
carrying load increases to more than twice the pre-latrine

The addition of a bathing room, affords women more privacy, and
a better way to keep themselves clean and hygienic. In most
villages we have worked with, women especially, equate
this part of their physical quality of life to what people in the
city enjoy.

During the last few years, financial allocation for rural
water supply has decreased. While
the allocation to drinking water has reduced from
87 percent (2009-10) to 31 percent (2018-19),
the allocation to rural sanitation has increased from
13 percent to 69 percent in the same period. This is
definitely not a desirable situation, as noted
by many


Mainstreaming the community-owned and managed method
of rural water supply will ensure equitable

Doing this, rather than pushing for large water supply projects
across many villages, will give rural communities and local
governments greater control over managing their resources and
meeting the needs of every household in an equitable
manner. The Swajal
 of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation,
which talks about village level, community-based water
projects, is a step in the right direction. Much greater push is
needed by the central government to ensure that the state-level
apparatus moves to a more enabling and empowering approach in
addressing rural drinking water needs.


Research and experience across more than two decades in rural Odisha, India, show that an effective rural sanitation model requires both financial assistance and an integrated water supply.

A woman collects the drinking water from the third tap in
Simlipadar village in Thuamul Rampur, Kalahandi | Picture courtesy:
Ajaya Behera


Second generation challenges

The water and sanitation infrastructure, when first built,
contributes to a substantial decrease in water-borne diseases in
villages. These are borne out of several studies conducted
in villages in Odisha.

After the initial round of benefits, we find that the
infrastructure alone is insufficient to sustain health benefits.
Additional efforts are needed to motivate people to adopt safe
sanitation practices. The ensuing issues have been
 by many. For instance,
changing long-standing beliefs and attitudes related
to toilet use requires intensive hand holding, particularly for
older people. There are other aspects of personal hygiene and
sanitation, including personal habits, disposal of child
faeces, and menstrual hygiene; these need to be addressed by
demonstrating workable models, accompanied by education.

From Gram Vikas’ experience in Odisha, we have been able to
enumerate several challenges that need to be addressed. Even when
piped drinking water exists, households prefer to store drinking
water. We have found that handling of stored drinking water is an
area that needs better education.

Disposal of child faeces, especially by mothers who do not think
the child’s faecal matter is harmful, is another area of concern.
We are also coming across new forms of discrimination in
households, where menstruating women are not allowed to use
the toilets and bathrooms.

While issues related to personal hygiene and washing hands
with soap are already quite widely discussed, the next set of
challenges relate to safe disposal and/or managing liquid and
solid waste at the household and community level.


A charter of demands

We hope that the next iteration of Swachh Bharat Mission will
truly lead to a Swachh Bharat. Based on our experience, we would
like to draw the following charter of demands:

1. Strengthen the ways of providing household
sanitation infrastructure
  • Add a bathing room component to the design and costing provided
    in the national guidelines; increase financial support per
    household to INR 18,000 for new entrants; allow additional
    funding of INR 6,000 per household for those wanting to add a
    bathroom to their existing toilets. 
  • Create provisions for repair or upgradation of toilets built,
    till 2018; provide for additional assistance to households whose
    toilets were built by contractors without involvement of the
  • Provide financial assistance for new households in villages
    already declared ODF. 
  • Correct errors in the baseline of deserving households. 
2. Integrate piped water supply with sanitation at the
household level, and facilitate greater community control over
rural drinking water projects
  • Enlarge the scope for Swajal scheme by
    allocating more funds. 
  • Where ground water availability challenges dictate building of
    larger projects, it will make sense to separate the pumping and
    supply, from household distribution of water. The former could be
    done centrally for a large number of villages, while the latter
    could be managed by the communities at their level.
  • Make individual household–level piped water supply the
    standard design principle for rural water supply projects. 
  • Build community capacities to manage groundwater resources and
    undertake watershed and springshed interventions. 
  • Integrate water quality management as a community–level
    initiative, by demystifying testing technologies, and
    creating a wider network of testing laboratories. 
3. Deepen and integrate WSH interventions for better
health and nutrition outcomes at the community-level
  • Incentivise states to achieve stronger schematic and financial
    convergence between National Health Mission and the Integrated
    Child Development Services at the intermediate and gram panchayat
4. Create a multi-stakeholder institutional platform
to deepen and sustain SBM across rural India
  • Incentivise states to enable Panchayati Raj
    Institutions to play a greater role in the SBM process.
  • Allow for more active participation of civil society
    organisations as facilitators and implementors, to support rural
    community–based institutions to adopt sustainable sanitation
    interventions. Provide financial incentives to such organisations
    based on outputs and outcomes.


Liby Johnson is the executive director of
Gram Vikas, Odisha


This story was originally
 by India Development Review (IDR)

The post
A Rural Sanitation Model That Works
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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A Rural Sanitation Model That Works