Lessons from past sanitation policies for future efforts

News: Despite decades of national sanitation policies, data from the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) indicates that India is far from achieving it.

Why does SDG Goal 6 (on water and sanitation) is essential?

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 6 aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030. But, its importance extends beyond its objectives. It will help nations achieve other SDG goals. Such as SDG 1 (poverty eradication), SDG 2 (improving nutrition), SDG 3 (promotion of well-being), and SDG 5 (gender equality), among others.

About the Evolution of India’s sanitation policies

Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP; 1986-1999): It offered financial assistance to below-poverty-line (BPL) homes to encourage the construction of ‘individual household latrines’ (IHHLs).

Challenges: Slow construction and lack of demand-led ‘behaviour change communication’ (BCC).

Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC; 1999-2011): It focused on driving up demand for toilet adoption. Around 15% of its budget was dedicated to educational activities, along with continued financial assistance to BPL households.

To inculcate behaviour change, the campaign focussed on achieving Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).

Note: Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is developed in Bangladesh. It is a multistep participatory process that acknowledges that the mere provision of toilets does not guarantee its usage. It uses audiovisual aids to arouse a sense of discomfort and disgust with Open Defecation (OD) and motivates local communities to end the practice collectively.

Challenges of TSC: 1. Officials running TSC lacked the training needed for educational activities, 2. Rather than demand-led, it is infrastructure-focused.

So, less than a 10% increase in toilet coverage was achieved under TSC according to the Census data (from 22% in 2001 to 31% in 2011).

Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), 2012: The Abhiyan only ran for 18 months.

Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) on 2 October 2014: Under it, the government aims to achieve an OD-free India within five years. The SBM was the first to include urban (along with rural) sanitation guidelines.

Under the SBM, India achieved the construction of around 100 million toilets and was declared an OD-free nation on 2 October 2019. However, many independent studies, along with NFHS-5 data, have raised questions over this claim.

Why do India’s sanitation policies not yield desired results?

1. Policies have had a top-down approach with a focus on building toilets, this led to a higher number of toilets installed, but not used, 2. Ignored behaviour change communication’ (BCC).

What should India do?

Proper community mobilization: India has to learn from Bangladesh. Using CLTS, Bangladesh reduced OD from 42% in 2003 to 1% in 2016. India should follow Bangladesh’s steps such as 1. Recognize sanitation attitudes as crucial, 2. Form collaborations with state and local governments along with national and international NGOs, 3. Recognise the participation and leadership role of women in achieving ODF status, such as decisions on the location and type of toilets planned, 4. Explain the merits of using toilets and having clean surroundings.

Remould social norms: Social norms should be remoulded in such a manner that toilets begin to be associated with the household’s dignity and social status.

Keep toilets structurally intact and suitably clean: This will ensure that there is no reversal to OD after some time.

Linking SDG 6 goal with the sanitation programmes at all levels: This will allow a unified approach towards that end.

Source: This post is based on the article “Lessons from past sanitation policies for future efforts” published in Livemint on 24th November 2021.

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