The Swachh Bharat campaign that swept the country helped to highlight the burning issue of sanitation as the root cause of many of the critical health issues plaguing us. Yet, although we have made rapid progress in building toilets and ensuring (near) full coverage, sanitation challenges persist. Unfortunately, many toilets are not used by the population and the lack of waste management mechanisms in rural India – proving that behavior change is really at the heart of our 2030 sanitation target.
To add fuel to the fire, the management of solid and liquid waste in rural communities is one of the main causes of the contamination of precious community water bodies and groundwater on which, as a nation hungry for water we depend on so heavily. Again, infrastructure solutions are needed, but only if people are empowered to use them will we see radical and lasting change.
Change is possible at the local level – but only if communities are empowered to sit in the driver’s seat. This is where a community-led total sanitation approach takes center stage, as a proven strategy for village transformation.
Community – The Driving Force of Village Transformation
In 2017, Mangi Budruk Village was declared a Smart Village and awarded a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh by the government of Maharashtra. Yet just over a decade ago, barely 10 of its 234 households even had a toilet. Liquid waste festered in open sewers and seeped into the streets, while solid waste was dumped in open land and littered streets. How then, did such a village, largely made up of a tribal and Banjara population nestled deep in the interiors of Maharashtra, completely transform and become a Smart Village?
In 2012 (two years before the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan), a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program was launched. A Village Development Committee (VDC) was formed and one of the first activities was to bring VDC members on exhibition tours to “model villages” like Hiware Bazaar and others. Never in their wildest dreams had they imagined that a village could be so clean and self-sufficient.
The community got to work, as the success of the CLTS program quickly caught the attention of the bloc’s development officer and other government officials and, in 2013, Mangi Bk. won the Santh Gadgebaba Gram Swachhata Puraskar with a cash prize of Rs. 25,000 for being the cleanest village in the Rajura block. In the same year, they won the second prize at the district level Sant Gadgebaba Gram Swachhata Puraskar in Chandrapur earning an additional Rs. 3,000,000 prizes.
Mangi quickly achieved 100% toilet coverage and open defecation free status. Armed with these achievements and understanding that anything could be achieved if the community worked together, the village community vowed to continue the development momentum – launching a series of other community development projects that collectively transformed their village.
Today Mangi is not just a smart village. It is presented as an example of a participatory approach to development; what even a ‘backward’ community can achieve if it takes initiative and leadership on its development issues and works collaboratively with all stakeholders.
Real change, driven by the community
As demonstrated in the village of Mangi, Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) remains a powerful tool to achieve our national sanitation aspirations. By supporting communities to conduct their own village sanitation assessment and analysis and engaging them to identify and find solutions to their sanitation and hygiene needs, the people themselves experience transformation. Beliefs change. Understanding takes place. And people are working collectively to bring about change.
The secret is in a five-step process to energize, enable and empower communities to action.
1. Vision Building – Help the community develop a common vision for their village by taking them on exposure tours, establishing the baseline, setting common goals and forming a village development committee to drive the community action.
2. Community Mobilization – Community sensitization through sensitization sessions, street games and community meetings. Involve traditional religious leaders and other village leaders in the process. Coordinate community sensitization events and train different age groups – older people in monitoring and conflict resolution; young people for cleanliness campaigns in the villages; women’s groups to motivate households to build toilets and cesspools.
3. Collective Action – Get to work and start a cleanliness campaign in villages by community groups.
4. Collaboration and Resource Mobilization – Involve panchayat, block level development workers and other key stakeholders like schools and anganwadis, in the subsequent stages for long term sustainability.
5. Capacity building – Mobilize women in federations and organize trainings on group management and conflict resolution to support group dynamics and progress.
India has made rapid progress, but we still have a long way to go. Simply providing toilets does not guarantee their use, nor does it lead to improved sanitation and hygiene. There is also a lot of work to be done in the management of liquid and solid waste as part of sanitation. While urban areas are taken care of, rural areas are often overlooked. Although people in rural India are oriented towards the segregation and composting of liquid waste, it is the solid waste that leads to combustion and contributes to pollution due to the lack of proper disposable mechanisms. As CLTS proves to be the need of the hour and focuses on the behavior change and ownership needed to ensure real and lasting improvements, it is equally important to move on to other sanitation issues outside the toilet.
The opinions of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the website.
Pearl Tiwari is the Director of Ambuja Cement Foundation, the CSR wing of Ambuja Cements Limited. Over a professional career spanning more than 30 years, Pearl has been associated with the non-profit, educational and corporate sectors. Pearl joined Ambuja in 2000 and since then has led the Ambuja Cement Foundation, which has grown from a fledgling team to nearly 400 development professionals, with an active pan-India presence in 21 locations across 11 states.
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The CSR journal team