Why Sanitation Access Doesn’t Work Unless the Entire Village Buys In
Jitender is a four-year old boy with forward-thinking parents. Although it’s common in his village, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, for most people to defecate in the open, his parents have taken the lessons of the government’s sanitation campaign to heart. They know that open defecation spreads disease—so they construct a private toilet that hygienically isolates their waste from human contact. Nonetheless, a few months later, Jitender develops persistent diarrhea. He is often dehydrated, loses weight, and becomes pale. His immune system is weakened by multiple bouts of disease, and for the next several years he struggles with recurrent illness. He has trouble keeping up with his schoolwork, and, more perniciously, even though he ate more than enough calories each day, the diarrhea eventually caused malnourishment. He remains small for his height and suffers from subtle intellectual deficits that make it difficult for him to follow the teacher’s lessons even during those periods when he does manage to attend. Because of his low marks, his family isn’t able to fulfill their dream of sending him on to university. The village takes note of Jitender’s example and concludes that improved sanitation doesn’t provide much, if any, benefit. This is a fictional story; however, similar stories are being heard every day in South Asia.
“They say this land will change next year”, Kallo said. We were standing on the edge of her barren land, just after a late monsoon down poor. Even when wet, I could see the land was useless, it looked very much like the sand dunes by the sea in my own country. Nothing grows on them except some long hard grass. Nobody could make a living off that land….
Kallo is a widow who also lost her elder brother and her son. She scrapes by on some manual labor she does, but her life is visibly tough, it shows in her face. She is not able to pay for school for her two children and struggles to make ends meet. “I do not know what it means, but they say the land will be better.” she insisted. “I will go to the meeting and get my registration card.”
I went to bed early that night in Rudrprayag. The trip had worn me out and we were not even halfway up the Alaknanda Valley. Still, sleep would not come. The air conditioning made too much noise. When I got up to switch it off, the noise stayed. I suddenly realized how close we were to the river….
Ten days later nobody would have thought the river’s noise was an air conditioning unit. The river became a monster that obliterated everything in its way. Many hotels like mine were simply swept aside, as were people, roads, bridges, houses, and much more. They call it the Himalayan Tsunami. There was a cloudburst, causing a lake to burst, triggering a series of events that led to terrible destruction and loss of life.
For centuries, cities have been the beacon for economic prosperity. Drawn by the promise of economic, social and political opportunity, more than half the world’s population live in cities today. In India alone, 90 million people migrated from farms to cities in the last decade. The prospect of higher wages and better living standards is expected to draw 250 million more by 2030.
Urban success is based on economies of agglomeration -- where density increases the ease of moving goods, people, and ideas – increasing productivity. However, compared to other emerging economies, Indian cities do not appear to have captured gains from economic concentration. While the service sector and high-tech manufacturing have benefitted from agglomeration more than other sectors, overall urban productivity has not kept pace with India’s economic growth. In fact, the urban share of national employment has not increased between 1993 and 2006.
Are the costs of density overwhelming the benefits from clustering?
“The forest is an integral part of my life and only source of income. We exploited it until we saw people killed in landslides in the neighboring areas. Gradually we became aware of the consequences of unplanned felling of trees. Now we protect our forest alongside the Forest Department. I own two hectares of forest land and they pay for its maintenance. I have earned a good amount after the first felling,” says a proud Sabbir, participant from a social forestry initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, Ukhiarghat, Cox’s Bazar.
The Government of Bangladesh initiated the Social Forestry programs with a view to meet the forest product requirements of the local population, reverse the process of ecological and climatic degradation through proper soil and water conservation, and also to improve the socioeconomic condition of the rural people.
Forests are the primary buffer against cyclones, storms and surges for over 16 million people living in the vulnerable coastal zone of Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, forests in Bangladesh have declined by 2.1% annually, accumulating to almost half of all forest cover, due to deforestation, illegal logging and harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture, conversion into non-forestland for settlement, farming, recreation and industries. With the likely increased incidence and intensity of extreme cyclonic events, efforts must focus on reversing the decline in forests in order to adequately safeguard people against threats induced by climate change.
NGOs, lending agencies, and the public sector are hard at work in meeting the global sanitation target. But what about the private sector, and what about the families that do not want to wait for the next NGO to knock on their door with a better toilet? Over the past couple of years, the Water and Sanitation Program’s (WSP) Sanitation Marketing strategy in Bangladesh has tried to address these concerns by stimulating the supply and demand of hygienic sanitation facilities through the mobilization of local entrepreneurs. The objective of Sanitation Marketing is for families to have the desire and the agency to move up the sanitation ladder on their own.
In 2009, the pilot program began in five villages in the Jamalpur district, and has now been scaled-up to around 230 villages across Bangladesh with support from the Dutch WASH Alliance, International Development Enterprises, and the Max Foundation. WSP also strategizes and implements the project with Hope for the Poorest (HFP), a local Bangladeshi NGO, and the Association of Social Advancement (ASA), a microfinance institution.
Mohammed Jalal is one of the many sanitation entrepreneurs supported by Sanitation Marketing in the Hobiganj district where WSP has began scaling up the initiative since 2011. Through microfinance loans from ASA and small-business training sessions from WSP, Mr. Jalal was able to open two stores in Hobiganj. Mr. Jalal’s shops are decorated with colorful flags to attract customers and are filled with an assortment of sanitation products such as handwashing stations and off-set pit latrines. With a catalogue in hand, Mr. Jalal markets his products to local villages and gives households the chance to move up the sanitation ladder. Customers are able to choose the materials and colors of their latrine and are most importantly, able to choose the type of sanitation facility that fits into their budget. Products range from Tk 1,600 (US $20) to Tk 20,000 (US $250), and all Sanitation Marketing entrepreneurs offer an installment plan for families to pay for their products over time. WSP additionally connects these entrepreneurs to the local government in order to establish whether any families in the area are eligible for subsidies. In the Hobiganj district alone, Sanitation Marketing has been able to support over 17 entrepreneurs like Mr. Jalal to serve hundreds of happy customers.
I have been visiting coastal Odisha for the past four years, earlier when we were preparing the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) and subsequently during project implementation.
Every time the project team visited a village, the local community was always there to welcome us and talk about their experience during the 1999 cyclone, the community members they lost, the houses damaged, the devastation inflicted. This was an event that was firmly etched in their memories even 10 years later. Every site visit was followed by a small function wherein the local community mobilizing volunteers spoke about the preparedness work they were undertaking in collaboration with the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) and local community organizations. Almost every single meeting ended in their spoken resolve “Never Again!”
Our journey to the remote region of Gabura in Bangladesh took us down unpaved roads, through meandering rivers and to the edges of the Sundarban mangrove forest. The first thing that struck us was the near absence of trees in the village. During cyclones Sidr and Aila, saline water had destroyed agricultural land and although the place was surrounded by water, it was unfit to drink. The embankment, which was built to protect the area from tidal surges, was in severe disrepair. To make matters worse, once the aid funds had dried up in the aftermath of the cyclones, almost all the NGOs had left and there was little assistance coming from the government.
Bangladesh was born on December 16 1971, following a devastating war that cost the lives of 3,000,000 people. They were victorious in their fight for independence, yet the prospects of the Bangladeshi people living in the 70’s were disheartening, earning it the now rather infamous connotation of a basket case, as Henry Kissinger called it back in 1971. Emerging from the rubbles left by the war, the resilient Bangladeshis began the rebuilding of their newly established nation. Economic growth was slow to take off, and it rebounded to the pre-war level about twenty years later, in the 90’s. Yet, it was after the 90’s that the country began to attain palpable progress and only over the 2000-2010 decade that the country achieved great poverty reduction. The depth-of-poverty MDG target of 8 percent was attained five years ahead of schedule, and Bangladesh was set in the right path for achieving the first MDG goal of halving the poverty headcount to 28.5 percent by 2015.