Chief of the Urban Sector Group Sector Advisory Service Cluster – Urban Sector Group
Deputy Project Officer
Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Program
Project Manager (Consultant), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Senior Manager, IPE Global Ltd.
India has lagged behind other countries in providing basic sanitation. About 56% of the country’s population, or 732 million people, have no access to basic sanitation. At the center of the challenges associated with basic sanitation is open defecation, leading to hardships for girls and women, and causing severe impacts to health and economy.
The Government of India has launched a worthy, though ambitious, program – Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) – to promote sanitation and end open defecation in the country by 2 October 2019, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, or the Father of the Nation as he is known in India.
Since the program’s inception on 2 October 2014, about 60 million household toilets in rural areas and more than 4 million household toilets in urban areas have been constructed. After only three years, 10 states, more than 300 districts, 1,500 cities, and 300,000 villages in India have been declared as open defecation free (ODF), as of January 2018 based on real-time data in the SBM website.
Rajasthan has been a frontrunner in this regard with unprecedented progress in its ODF status, leaping from a toilet coverage of 30.5% when the SBM was launched to more than 98% as of January 2018.
The Swachh Bharat Mission comprises the following six broad components, creating an effective combination of physical infrastructure, institutional strengthening, public outreach, and capacity building:
Construction of individual household latrines (IHHLs), including conversion of insanitary toilets into pour flush latrines
Construction of community toilets
Construction of public toilets
Solid waste management
Information, education, and communication (IEC), and public awareness
Capacity building and administration
Under the first component, an incentive has been included for households to encourage the construction of individual household toilets, and the conversion of unsanitary latrines into sanitary ones.
For urban areas, the construction and use of toilets by individual households have been slow due to three main factors: finances, land, and water.
Urban sanitation reforms
“Rajasthan has made major progress in under-five mortality rate, education, and sanitation. I have worked in many countries, but have never seen such rapid progress in sanitation, like in Rajasthan,” says Isabelle Bardem, state chief field officer of UNICEF.
Rajasthan has emerged as a leader in urban sanitation reforms. Since the start of the SBM, more than 240,000 toilets have been constructed in cities, and 75 out of 191 cities in the state have been declared ODF, of which 20 are certified and others are under the process of certification.
Along with the remarkable growth of safe sanitation practices and ODF cities in Rajasthan, the government, with loan assistance from the Asian Development Bank, has implemented three urban development projects that focus on reforms and investments in urban wastewater management and the promotion of ODF-cities in the state. These projects include the first, second, and third phases of the Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Program (RUIDP).
The investments in sanitation and wastewater management under RUIDP have made substantial improvements in the living standards of the residents of about 34 project towns.
Curbing the toilet challenge
For urban areas, the construction and use of toilets by individual households have been slow due to three main factors: finances, land, and water. Firstly, while a government assistance of INR12,000 (about $188) is being offered to households, the actual cost of constructing a toilet often exceeds this amount. Consequently, households bear a share of the initial cost of construction, which may not be a priority for poorer households.
Secondly, Rajasthan has a diverse geography, and its often hilly, sandy, or rocky terrain is difficult and unsuitable for one-size-fits-all toilet designs that are currently the standard. Many households have insufficient area within or near their residences for a toilet. This challenge requires more research for location-specific, low-footprint, and easy-to-maintain toilets.
Lastly, the low availability of water has been a critical issue for the water-starved, desert state of Rajasthan. Because water is precious, households often consider the use of water in toilets as wastage, and thus prefer open defecation. This calls for research in developing low-water-consuming urinals and toilets, as well as augmenting water supply in remote areas, strong public engagement, and public outreach campaigns for increasing public awareness and promoting behavior change.
Progress in rural sanitation
Rajasthan is well on its way to making all of its villages ODF, which is the target of the SBM. Rajasthan has been one of the best performing states under the mission, showing a rapid pace in the construction of individual household latrines. Overall, 88%, or over 37,000 villages and nine districts, have been declared ODF, as of January this year.
To strengthen the SBM, the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly has passed amendments to the Panchayati Raj Bill, which mandates all candidates of panchayat (village council) elections to have a functional sanitary toilet in their house and that none of their family members defecate in the open. State-level institutional reforms have allowed districts the freedom to experiment and reach their sanitation targets.
Rajasthan has focused on behavior change along with toilet construction through community-led total sanitation initiatives. Though the state was not alone in this approach, the implementation has been outstanding compared to other areas in the country. One reason is the systematic capacity building of its district resource group (DRG) members, according to the World Bank. These DRG members run behavior change campaigns and educate villages about the threats of open defection to health and dignity. Also, the state government has used a range of publicity campaigns, such as the ODF Olympics, to advocate for ODF.
The government’s holistic approach has been bolstered by a robust, three-tier monitoring process, including community-based monitoring through social media, Whatsapp, and cleanliness ambassadors called Swachhta Doots; ground-level monitoring through existing structures of various government functionaries and school teachers; and at the district and block levels through the DRG and block verification committees. Rajasthan’s implementation machinery and long-term planning have helped it outpace other states in India.
The Swachh Bharat Mission has been a great success in Rajasthan, especially in rural areas, which are most likely to become ODF by the 2019 deadline. The road to becoming ODF in urban areas is tougher considering that almost 40% of the target has yet to be met.
Sustaining the current momentum of achieving 100% ODF status in urban and rural areas, and maintaining it over time, entails the following thrust areas:
A greater emphasis and budget utilization on institutional strengthening, public outreach, and capacity building activities for the deeper penetration of public awareness and behavior change campaigns, as well as for preventing the relapse of ODF households into old habits;
Greater urgency in implementing the SBM urban mission;
Formulating strategies and action plans for transitioning beyond ODF to achieve ODF+ and ODF++ status—solid waste management, wastewater collection and treatment, among others; and
Better research and development, and training of engineers, architects, and masons for the construction of low-footprint, terrain-specific, and low water-consuming sanitary toilets.
This article appeared originally in the January 2018 edition of SAUW Insider, the newsletter of the ADB South Asia Urban Development and Water Division.