Progressing India's sanitation strategy
The Indian launch of a new IDS study on the potential of community-led sanitation (CLTS) provided a unique opportunity to discuss ways forward for India's sanitation strategy.
'Shit Matters: The Potential of Community Led Total Sanitation' edited by Lyla Mehta and Synne Movik is an important, new study on the fascinating story of the dramatic spread of Community-led total Sanitation (CLTS) around the world.
Over 50 participants attended its launch and panel discussion on 29 June at the International Centre in New Delhi. Attendees included representatives from national and international development agencies, national and state ministries and bureaucracies, academia, NGOs and the media. Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, Union Minister for Rural Development Government of India was Chief Guest accompanied by Mr A K Misra (Secretary, Department of Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation). Deepak Sanan, Principal Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh, who has spearheaded CLTS-friendly sanitation policy in his state, chaired the discussions. The launch was convened by IDS and the CLTS Foundation.
Reviewing the potential of CLTS for India
Despite tremendous effort at the national and state level on sanitation, 600 million Indians still lack access to basic sanitation and there are still about twice as many people in India defecating daily in the open as in the whole of rural Sub-Saharan Africa.
Kamal Kar, the pioneer innovator of CLTS and one of the contributors to the book urged the Government of India to revisit its sanitation policy, in light of the promise of CLTS, which is currently being implemented in a few states in India and currently practiced in 47 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Lyla Mehta, IDS Fellow and co-editor of the book,highlighted the promise and challenges of CLTS and the origins of study, which was funded by the UK Department of International Development. Key challenges that lie ahead concern ensuring overall sustainability (technological, social and institutional), going beyond CLTS to address livelihoods and poverty reduction issues as well as inclusion of the poorest and the marginalised. Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, Minister for Rural Development, Government of India departed from his prepared text and congratulated the authors and contributors on the book, especially Kamal Kar for facilitating open dialogue on 'shit', a hitherto taboo subject. He expressed a willingness to learn from CLTS and invited those present to meet with him and engage in a dialogue on policy. He also stressed the importance of research in highlighting what is happening on the ground.
India's federal structure means that states decide on their own incentives structures and awareness programmes. The country's diversity also means that CLTS is only one of the many different approaches to sanitation. However, several panellists and members of the audience stressed the potential of CLTS in addressing India's sanitation crisis. Brigitta Bode of the CLTS Foundation spoke about the lessons from Bangladesh where CLTS has empowered the poorest women and men to go beyond sanitation and make a difference in livelihoods and development. Ashufta Alam, Senior Advisor from the Department of International Development, Juan Costain, Regional Team Leader Water and Sanitation Programme - World Bank, and Lourdes Baptista, Country Representative of Water Aid India all highlighted the need to strengthen partnerships within the sanitation community and to facilitate greater linkages with issues concerning equity, nutrition, health and sustainable technology.
The discussions focussed on how India's Total Sanitation Campaign which also emerged in 2000 could learn from CLTS. A member of the audience asked why adequate attention was not being paid to the successes of CLTS in states where it is widespread (e.g. Himachal Pradesh). Here the political economy of the subsidy regime emerges as key and the need to rethink current reward and incentive structures.
Officials and researchers from Maharastra highlighted the need to generate a new generation of first class CLTS champions, facilitators and trainers. Cautionary tales emerged from Kerela which is completely ODF but where groundwater contamination is widespread.
Discussions highlighted that there is a need to see how far the spurt in toilet construction has been accompanied by the effective creation of ODF communities. It is important to move beyond focussing merely on toilet construction. Instead, sanitation in its essence can be inclusive and equitable and delivers benefits only when entire communities participate, leading to collective behaviour change. CLTS has shown the ability to awaken and harness the energy of entire communities and this is a radical departure from traditional approaches. The issue is not to talk of merging CLTS with existing hardware household subsidy approaches, but creating an enabling environment and building capacity for CLTS, which does not focus on counting latrines, as the main criteria of success, but works towards 'open defecation free' communities with a sustained behaviour change. It is also key to address the challenges regarding scaling up with quality, inclusion of the poorest, equity and sustainable technologies.
Brigitta Bode and Kamal Kar are with the CLTS Foundation India. Lyla Mehta is a Fellow in the KNOTS team and the co-editor of 'Shit Matters'. Deepak Sanan is Principal Secretary, government of Himachal Pradesh.
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