Leave no one behind: Progress in India

More than 400 million of India’s 1.2 billion citizens still live in poverty, and India has the largest number of people in the world practicing open defecation. But things are set to change, as Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, has made sanitation and hygiene a top priority.

Through the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission, there is a goal to end open defecation practices in India by 2019, well ahead of the UN Sustainable Development Goal target date of 2030. The Global Sanitation Fund (GSF)-supported program in India has been instrumental in establishing methods and practices to enable the realization of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Between 2011 and 2015, open defecation-free (ODF) environments were provided for 726,000 people, two million people were given access to improved toilets, and 3.24 million people to hand washing facilities.

In 2015, the GSF program also supported the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in the organization of the ‘Indovation III’ conference, for the development and dissemination of sustainable WASH technologies in support of Swachh Bharat. The conference brought together representatives from all State Governments. Approximately 30 innovators showcased their products, and a handbook on innovative technologies was released.

Partnering with government to enable change

Woman washing hands (photo)

“In a country where pervasive caste and gender inequalities threaten life itself, over 300 million women and girls in India try to squat in a sari, while holding a cup of water to cleanse themselves and keeping an eye out for molesters. Imagine how much more complex and impossible this becomes every month during a woman’s menstrual period! It is time for the entire development community to unite behind this cause.” Archana Patkar, Program Manager, WSSCC.

WSSCC was one of the partners contributing to the design of the Swachh Bharat Mission before its launch in 2014, focusing on including equity, innovation, rapid action and learning, as well as sustainability aspects. In 2015, WSSCC also organized the first ever national workshop to define the verification of open defecation-free (ODF) status in India, followed by the first national sharing of innovations, best practices and failures in sanitation and hygiene.

WSSCC continues to be involved in the program, for example, conducting research to better understand how people with disabilities can engage in community-led sanitation and hygiene activities, and to incorporate the needs of women and girls in program planning and implementation.

“Being part of this program, we realize that women can emerge and play a leading role in positively shaping behavior and impacting the attitude and practices of a community. Focusing on women and their social roles can help more women and women’s groups emerge as leaders for community mobilization. Further, we feel our experience in making the village ODF can be extended to ensure achievement of other needs in the village.” Statement from the ‘Nigrani Samiti’ (Women’s Monitoring Committee) in Jhanjharpur Block, Madhubani District, Bihar, India.