Learning from experience - water and environmental sanitation in India - UNICEF report

The report describes the efforts undertaken by UNICEF in collaboration with government of India to achieve total sanitation and water coverage in the country over the period of three decades

UNICEFThis report by the UNICEF describes the efforts undertaken by UNICEF in collaboration with the government of India to achieve total sanitation and water coverage in the country. This report provides the details of the attempts made and the outcomes achieved over the period of three decades.

India’s water and sanitation programme, strongly supported by UNICEF for nearly three decades, has provided not only services but also long-term training and technical support, especially in the case of water supply.  The programme has also encouraged technological innovation and international expertise while at the same time strengthening input from the community and local private sector. The WES programme in India has evolved and expanded to coincide with changing conditions and priorities. 

For example, in the late 1960s and 1970s, UNICEF, reflecting the Government’s priorities, devoted a significant portion of  its efforts in India to water supply coverage. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the programme expanded to include sanitation. In both water and sanitation, the emphasis was initially placed on the development of technical solutions and then turned to quality control, operation and maintenance of equipment, and the promotion of  good hygiene and related behaviours.

In recent years, programmes have increasingly encouraged communities to define their own needs and participate in planning and managing WES services. Many pilot projects have been launched. Some became institutionalized, while others did not translate successfully to full-scale implementation. All have been useful in learning more about what can and cannot work in the field, on a sustainable basis.

This report explores lessons learned that can help other nations in their efforts to provide universal WES coverage for their citizens. India shares with many other developing countries important characteristics that affect demand for and supply of WES services. These include various unfavorable conditions in terms of geology and remote locales, economic constraints, and some long-standing traditions that affect hygiene and health behaviours and create particular burdens for the very poor and for girls and women.

The WES programme in India is UNICEF’s longest-supported programme in water and sanitation, providing a valuable long-term perspective. This  report looks at four areas that are key to water and sanitation programmes in India and worldwide:

  • Coverage: Access to water and sanitation
  • Technology: Adapting to local conditions through innovation
  • Behavioural changes: Improving WES related practices
  • Partnerships: Working with others to maximise results

The report sheds light on the experiences from India that indicate that:

  • Long term commitment and partnerships produce results
  • An external agency such as the UNICEF has greater freedom than government to test new approaches
  • Partnerships can maximise results, butantageous for each participant they must be closely coordinated and mutually advantageous for each participant
  • Local realities must be taken into consideration in implementing policies made by central government
  • It is crucial to develop technology (pumps and other hardware) suited to local conditions, especially where water is scarce.
  • A balance must be maintained between technology and the social and behavioural aspects of WES services
  • Gender and poverty need priority attention when programmes are planned, implemented and monitored.
  • Cost data are needed for comprehensive and effective analysis
  • Convergence among sectors can maximise impact in a community.
  • Going to scale too quickly has adverse repercussions

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