Overcoming heavy odds to emerge as a WATSAN model

How women came together in a Junagadh village to tackle drinking and domestic water shortage effectively.
AKRSP has promoted rainwater harvesting to address the issue of scarce potable water at Mangrol. By encouraging households to collect rainwater using pipes on their roofs which then drain into an underground tank they have been able to promote water security. (Image: Aga Khan Foundation Flickr) AKRSP has promoted rainwater harvesting to address the issue of scarce potable water at Mangrol. By encouraging households to collect rainwater using pipes on their roofs which then drain into an underground tank they have been able to promote water security. (Image: Aga Khan Foundation Flickr)

Kotda village provides an inspiring example of how a village suffering from teething troubles in the critical areas of water and sanitation can emerge as a model water and sanitation village. Located in Mangrol block of Junagadh district, from a distance this village presents a lush green appearance because of an abundance of coconut trees. “Despite this, the village was so dirty about two decades back that we used to put a cloth on our nose to block the stench on some village paths," says Kamla, an elderly woman of Kotda. This was because open defecation was practiced by all households. Also, the wastewater flowed out from the kitchen and bathing places and got collected in stagnant pools.

Saline water ingression from the sea in this coastal region also led to increasing salinisation of groundwater and it became unfit for human consumption. Hence, women had to fetch water from 2 to 3 kms away, carrying three to four pitchers at a time. “Sometimes the same sources used by animals were also used by human beings due to lack of alternatives,” says Hansa, a middle aged woman of this village.

"There are certain things about those days that we do not even want to recall,” she adds. "Going for open defecation 3 kms away was bad enough. But sometimes we also had to carry the excreta of children or disabled persons in a basket so that it could be thrown at the site of open defecation. Even though we kept it covered with ash, the stink was very much there and we found it difficult to carry this all the way."

Then slowly things took a turn with the organisation of four self-help groups (SHGs) of women in this village, thanks to the efforts of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP). As Sudha Rathore of this organisation explains, "the organisational base of the SHGs provided the strength for initiating several development initiatives particularly in the area of water and sanitation."

An effort by the AKRSP, helped by subsidies from the state government, aimed at helping villagers to construct rooftop rainwater structures. These structures helped people to store enough water so that they did not have to fetch drinking water from distant places. Later a piped water scheme helped people to further enhance their drinking water supply. AKRSP helped by motivating villagers to join this scheme and collect the necessary contributions for this. It also made arrangements to chlorinate the piped water supply (which comes for 90 minutes once in 2 or 3 days) so that the quality of drinking water could improve further. Hence the drinking and domestic water shortage was sorted out effectively.

Much before the government's drive for open defecation free villages gathered strength, women like Vijaya in this village started taking loans from their SHGs to construct toilets. Initially this was confined to just a few households, but Vijaya and other women worked hard to convince other villagers to construct and use toilets. "We used videos and other educational material to spread the message that open defecation leads to serious health problems and that these will remain as long as some members keep resorting to open defecation."

These community efforts have by now proved successful to such an extent that open defecation has been checked almost entirely in this village. This has brought visible health benefits and the incidence of diarrhoea, vomiting, typhoid and fever has come down, Vijaya asserts. The next big initiative, which the villagers here took, was to create a soak pit where the wastewater from kitchen and bathroom could be absorbed. This effort too has reached all households so that the all-too-common sight of wastewater creating puddles of dirty stagnant water here and there is not visible now.

This village has also seen the implementation of a very effective educational programme of menstrual health management. Hansa says, "earlier there were so many superstitions and myths associated with menstruation. Women and girls could not bathe. Both nutrition and hygiene were neglected. Young girls experiencing periods for the first few times were terrified with the experience. Now all this has changed. Due to the educational effort, girls understand menstrual hygiene in a scientific way and know how to manage it with just clean cloth even if they do not have pads."

The next big challenge is to take up waste segregation. A beginning has been made firstly by segregating all the plastic waste. People have decided that this will not be burnt and instead give them to a plastic waste dealer. Also, many women like Vijaya and Savita have started composting their kitchen waste, using pitcher, bins and an organic catalyst.

At least once in a month, women take the lead to launch a sanitation drive so that what litter may have accumulated in the village is cleared on this day.

It has been a remarkable progress to quench thirst, improve quality of water and remove widespread filth and stench from a village, which is widely praised for its water and sanitation achievements. The women of the village have made a very strong contribution to the programme. These have been accompanied by important gains to enhance and improve livelihoods based on the work of self-help groups of women. One only hopes that there are many more such villages with similar success in the crucial areas of water and sanitation.

Bharat Dogra is a veteran environmental journalist.

The article first appeared in WASH Knowledge Update, Issue 9, January 2020 and has been reproduced with permission.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of India Water Portal.

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