Shyama is an academic social entrepreneur, serving the academic community, a coastal village, the practitioners’ world, and citizens at large, especially students – to build WASH capabilities in India. For her, WASH stands for adequate and safe, WAter & WAste management, Sanitation and Hygiene behaviour. An original feature of her achievements is that she has managed to attain them working slowly throughout the last decade, dividing her life between Europe and India, in addition to family and academic duties, as an extra life mission.
To celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, on October 2, 2014, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the SWACHH BHARATH or Clean India Mission.
But sanitation and hygiene are not only Indian problems, but also a challenge for many developing countries, and thus they were highlighted among the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations. The question is, if this is all on the right track?
For universal sanitation coverage, the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represents a very positive step forward. It is a far cry from that of the Millennium Development Goals, where the issue of sanitation coverage had not even figured at the outset. It had taken mounting evidence and arguments on the positive impact of sanitation coverage on hygiene, health conditions, environmental security, and ultimately poverty reduction, to include “increase in sanitation coverage” as a target in 2002.
At the start of the millennium, 51% of the global population had no access to a functioning toilet; this now stands at 39%, with about 2.4 billion people still lacking access to sanitation. Thus, including water and sanitation as a stand-alone goal, instead of merely a target, highlights a real effort to address a real need. In Goal 6, sanitation figures thrice.
First, the SDG aims to “achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” by 2030. It is not clear what “adequate” and/or “equitable” should translate into, and likewise “those in vulnerable situations”.
An important factor highlighted by its absence is “safety”. Millions of ill-conceived latrines are being built in developing countries every day, and these are going to become millions more points of contamination in the future — unless the issue of proper construction is addressed. That said, it is most laudable that the challenge of “open defecation” has been brought centre stage.
Increase in sanitation coverage does not automatically guarantee the usage or maintenance of toilets. In rural areas, where space is not a problem, moral suasion and education is needed to convince men to use toilets. Developing countries are also cluttered by thousands of fossils of abandoned toilets, which are in various states of disuse due to poor construction or maintenance. These add to visual pollution, give off bad odours, and add to contamination. Thus, to improve health status, not only does sanitation coverage have to increase, but this has to be accompanied by behavioural change. The latter includes toilet usage and toilet maintenance as well as other hygiene behaviour such as hand washing.
Second, under goal #6, by 2030 there is to be expansion of “international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes”. It is not clear how this will be achieved. Over the last three decades, there has been a perceptible shift in public policies to promote sanitation coverage through multi-stakeholder platforms involving public–private partnerships. However, there is a clear knowledge gap in the necessary elements for a delivery platform: one that ensures all partners have a stake in making the social mission a success.
Third, SDG #6 also aims to “support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management”. But how, exactly, is this to be done? Based on the experiences in sanitation accumulated through the MDGs, what are the most effective management systems? How should individual governments share the responsibilities of water and sanitation infrastructure management? How should the coordination be handled between different levels (central, state, and local) as a function of the local context? Or should it be outsourced to private actors? If so, how should they be monitored and incentivised? Finally, should it simply be left to the market or local communities — with a minimal role for public authorities?
A variety of experiments are already underway worldwide. It would be worthwhile to study the outcomes of these as a function of the context and the management design.
In sum, toilets are a classic pro-poor innovation. They empower through imparting “social dignity”. Further, by improving the health status of citizens, universal sanitation coverage can also boost economic growth.
The challenge of sanitation is that it needs to be tackled from a multitude of facets. On the one hand, we need to guarantee that the toilets built are safe, usable, and non-polluting to the environment. On the other hand, we have to ensure that the toilets are being maintained and used.
It must be kept in mind that sanitation feeds into nearly all the other sustainable development goal targets, such as heath, child mortality, gender disempowerment, poor income generation facility, absenteeism from school, etc. Thus, the achievement of this seemingly simple goal could hold the key to others as well.
Ensuring access to safe water and sanitation will promote human equality and dignity. This, in turn, will drive the participation of the poor themselves to eliminate poverty.
A version of this blog was first published on the United Nations University Blog as part of UNU’s “17 Days, 17 Goals” series, featuring research and commentary in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, 25-27 September 2015 in New York City.here: http://unu.edu/publications/articles/ending-open-defecation.html
FIN internships are intense but in a good way. There is a lot that can be learnt from a professional as well as a human point of view. Take a look at what our recent interns have to say about their experience with us.
This experience has taught us a lot, on the professional side as well as on the human point of view. Now each of us will tell you what we think are the most important lessons we got out of the FIN internship experience.
Hi, I’m Manon Palomo. I am 24 years old from ENSAE, France and my main learning was:
- The importance of having only a few but clear and specific objectives, so we are able to achieve them.
- The necessity of others; to work in a team is very efficient in terms of division of labour. Each person has particular capacities and fields of expertise: to understand these differences and to mix them lead to a better work.
- Within teams, the ability to listen and to adapt are essential to progress.
- That the most important is the passion we put in a project. To overcome the – numerous – obstacles, it is fundamental to love and to believe in the work we do.
Hi, I’m Pranay Jain from IIT Kanpur in India and I am 23 years old. I learnt that:
- A common goal can unite people speaking different language, from different countries and following different cultures. Work ethics also play a key role here.
- It is more important to find one’s passion, the work done accordingly would automatically be more efficient.
- Every person has his/her own comfort zone and the way to work with them would differ. Success of a project depends sometimes more on inter-personal skills than technical know-how.
Hi, Lucile Rogissart, from Sciences Po in Paris, France and I am 21 years old. For me the most important lessons were:
- Synergy is crucial regarding team work. The recipe for it is a subtle balance between hard work and chill time, individual and common work, as well as a good knowing of each member’s capabilities and aspirations.
- Cultural differences are mainly affecting the software of people’s mind, but the hardware (the values, the ethic…) can be very close between two people from opposed parts of the world.
- I learnt how to work in very autonomous way, under numerous constraints and how it can improve creativity among the team and the individuals.
As citizens, firms and policy makers plan to exponentially increase their efforts to clean up India – Friend In Need continues in its small but very firm way to clean up one village and document the process – not for a Minister’s visit but for sustained state of hygiene and cleanliness! Its history is very difficult to write, especially for those who have been part of it. But here, Sangeeta Venkatesh, who has been with the project since its inception and continues to be one of its pillars, has managed to capture it in a crisp article ! Read on and many thanks to Sangeeta and Clean India for letting us share it with our readers!