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.”
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.
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.
Within the next 30 years, urban populations in developing countries will double and UN-Habitat estimates that around 3 billion people will need housing and basic infrastructure. Already, 70% of existing housing in developing countries is built informally without appropriate structural standards. Thus, the challenge lies in reconciling informal settlements with existing and future planned environments.
In light of these challenges, the South Asia urban team at the World Bank, as part of its urbanization webinar series, organized a discussion on “Upgrading Housing in Informal Settlements.” This webinar highlighted the challenges of upgrading housing in informal settlements, and shared lessons from around the globe where targeted policy interventions and grassroots movements have mobilized resources to create success stories. Guest speakers and experts around the world joined the discussion on informal settlements.
“Ghaas Katne Khurkera, aayo joban hurkera…” (A Nepali folk song)
It would be an injustice to my childhood if I said that this song wasn’t a part of my growing up. Even before I knew the title of the TV drama, I knew this song by heart. I, along with my friends, would happily play and sing along to it. This was a famous song from a tele-series played by Nepal’s most celebrated comedians Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya. Like this song, Madan Krishna and Hari Bansha, endearingly abbreviated as “MaHa” has been a household name to most Nepalis, either in Nepal or residing abroad.
They have, however, been different from other Nepali comedians- their comedy stand-ups or dramas have heavy dose of social morals in their highly creative and hilarious skits. After a break of two years, they are now back on TV with one such creation that infuses issues of social accountability with comedy. The tele-drama is titled “Aan” - A Nepali expression for opening mouth – metaphor for eating/misusing government resources.
“The subject is very dry. This is not like soap operas where the characters have highly dramatic lives. We have to heavily rely on artists’ performances as it should be technically sound to fetch audience attention,” says Hari Bansha Acharya, the producer and the actor for “Aan”. “We have previously worked on anti-corruption but this is the first time we are reflecting the real scenario at the village, district and national level. This is a virgin topic for TV and we hope we will be able to bring the kind of result that we are anticipating.”
Halima Khatun never had to worry about putting food on the table when her husband was alive. Her husband had a business which provided enough for their four children and they lived fairly contented till seven years ago, when her husband suddenly passed away.
As the years went by, one by one the children married, moved out and had their own family to take care of. Halima was left alone, fending for herself, and took up weaving mats and embroidery to help get by. But then her daughter, who used to work at a garments factory in the city after her divorce, suddenly fell sick and unable to work, she moved back in with her four-year old son. Halima was thrown into utter desperation and knew not how to make ends meet.
It’s June 16th, 2013. When you walk through the desolate, empty streets of Kathmandu today, where the effects of another bandh (strike) are clearly visible, you can’t help but wonder: will we Nepalis ever stand up and speak out against any of the injustices we see in our society or will we silently trudge on as always?
Sitting in a conference room at the Trade Tower in Kathmandu, I feel enormous hope that yes, we will. It’s a room filled with more than a hundred young techies and gender activists, all of whom braved the monsoon and the bandh to be a part of the Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon – a platform to bring together diverse stakeholders to work on technology solutions to VAW issues.