Earth Up! | Success Stories on Water and Sanitation Interventions in India

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Earth Up! is a monthly column by Ayesha Mehrotra that intends to cover varied issues and solutions with respect to environmental sustainability in India.

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”- Ban Ki Moon

As development practitioners and advocators of the environment, social justice and equity, it is important to understand the complimentary relationship between natural resource management and development, to lead a better, healthier and more sustainable life. With an increasing population and a fast growing economy the demand for water and its use is increasing. With respect to challenges, a variety of topics like water security for life and livelihoods, ecology and ecosystems of rivers, lakes and other water bodies, groundwater, traditional livelihoods and oceans help uncover this topic, in depth.

Water as an intervention has been revolutionary in India. There is so much that has been done with water in India: movements, protests, policy changes, accessibility and distribution. As resources become scarcer and with the threat of intensified pollution, climate change and global warming among many environmental situations are arising, it is necessary to think of alternative solutions to satisfy our requirements for consumption. To elaborate more upon this, let’s talk about the topic further.

“Ecological erosion and destruction of livelihoods are linked to one and another. Displacements of diversity and displacement of people’s sources of sustenance both arise from a view of development and growth based on uniformity created through centralized control. In this process of control, reductionist science and technology act as handmaidens for economically powerful interests. The struggle between the factory and the spinning wheel continues as new technologies emerge.” (Shiva, 2009). Shiva beautifully relates our responsibilities of being an ‘earth family’, where our strongest and most emerging identity must be our ‘earth identity’, in order to live in a democratic world and receive equitable resources and distribution. When humans are perceived at war with nature and society, rather than being a part of it, alienation and violence are normalized. The recovery of peace begins only with recreating social relationships and establishing deep respect towards the Earth. She focuses on how interventions are trying to transition back to local, resilient systems of knowledge for ecological sustainability and resource viability for a healthy and good life. We need to think as a collective for justice and equity.

Diarrheal diseases kill millions of children annually, representing the second leading cause of death and the leading cause of malnutrition. Reducing the prevalence of diarrhea in developing countries requires expanding access to improved water and sanitation facilities and improving hygienic practices that contaminate water. Between 2003 and 2007, Water.org and Gramalaya initiated community-level hygiene education courses and water and sanitation infrastructure development programs in 12 rural villages in Tamil Nadu. During this time, the majority of rural households were engaged in rice cultivation and a high percentage of these people lived below poverty line.  At the time of program evaluation, researchers found that diarrheal prevalence was uniformly low in both intervention and comparison villages at less than two percent for children under age five. However, children under the age of five exhibited very high prevalence of being underweight, stunting, and wasting.

The program interventions comprised village-wide hygiene education, construction of toilets at primary schools, technical support and local training for toilet construction, and renovation of community water pumps. Gramalaya also provided households in eight of the villages with micro-credit to construct private water taps and toilets. It was found that the program resulted in a sustained improvement in water and sanitation infrastructure but did not improve health outcomes, hygienic behavior, or household water quality. Private toilet construction expanded most significantly for low and middle-income groups and those from scheduled caste households.

Sanitation solutions are an integral component of Water For People India’s work, and are developed alongside water solutions. They work in schools to increase their access to sustainable sanitation and water facilities alongside promoting hygiene practices among students. Working with local partners, Water For People India facilitates the construction of sanitation and water infrastructure, constructing toilets for girls and boys. In the light of girls’ sanitation needs, sanitation facilities are separated by gender, and girls’ facilities include a changing area that allows them the privacy they require during menstruation, and incinerators for the disposal of sanitary products. To promote behavioral change that will support the use of the water and sanitation facilities, Water For People promotes water, sanitation, and hygiene education in schools and communities. Aside from sanitation interventions in schools, this organization promotes sustainable sanitation through a market-driven, research-based approach.

Resource appropriation and distribution for human utilization have extremely important factors such as mobilization, awareness, construction, enforcement and maintenance attached to it. It is one of the biggest problems India’s developmental agenda is facing today. Many people across the country, particularly rural communities face a lack of provisions when it comes to natural and basic resources for survival. Health, livelihoods, education, participation, awareness and consumption become an intersectional and integrated part of the process for stability and sustenance of these communities. It is important to understand the relations of power, justice and participatory development in the context of accessibility and growth. Till today, we face severe shortage and misuse of these resources and it is important to be aware of the grave fate of many people due to this and act upon it with wise plans and effective implementation. Both these interventions in Water and Sanitation help us understand the dynamics and complex relationships underlying the issue of water in India, in a clear-cut and precise manner. Water and sanitation go hand in hand. Water being the basic requirement of life needs to be focused upon just and equitable distribution. 

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” – W.H. Auden

Ayesha Mehrotra is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.
Featured image: World Resources Institute/Infographic by Sandeep Bhatnagar

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