Community engagement and involvement crucial for Swachh Bharat

Despite the increased focus under the Swachh Bharat Mission on improving sanitation services, there remains a gap between what communities required and what government was providing.

BCCL
In the last four years, the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission worked proactively on making cities open defecation free and later on went on to strengthen it with what they termed as open defecation free + and open defecation free + +.
Communities must have a central role if sanitation efforts are to be effective and sustained. More so as the communities most in need face the challenges of poor infrastructure, lack of space, inadequate basic facilities and lack of livelihood. Engagement between the community and the urban local bodies, and the direct involvement of the community in effecting solution addressing sanitation yields results that are not just effective but are sustained beyond the focus of a government programme.

This is clear from the assessment by Sanitation First India on the work undertaken by the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), a Delhi-based non-profit advocacy organisation in urban slums in Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata.

Despite the increased focus under the Swachh Bharat Mission on improving sanitation services, there remains a gap between what communities required and what government was providing. This gap can only be filled if the end user or beneficiary is part of the assessment and implementation process. This is where the efforts of organisations like CFAR have been critical.


In Delhi slums for instance, where the reliance on community toilet centres is high, it was found that the community members were uncomfortable using these community toilets, which were because of restricted land use norms semi-permanent structures. Users complained of feeling of suffocation. This problem, which would essentially be described as one of design, could only be addressed by ensuring that the community of end-users is able to convey their experience and needs to the urban local body and service providers.

But it is not enough to put in place well designed toilets. In the last four years, the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission, worked proactively on making cities open defecation free and later on went on to strengthen it with what they termed as open defecation free + and open defecation free + +, which implied operation and maintenance of toilets and safe containment, transportation and treatment of fecal sludge. This is only possible through active involvement of the community. Consider a city such as Delhi where dependence on community toilet centres is high, even though ensuring sanitation is the duty of the government, the proper maintenance of these toilets is the equal responsibility of the service provider and the user.

This is where community involvement and engagement becomes crucial. As the assessment shows interventions to give communities requisite training and handholding to maintain toilets, and proactive sharing of reports on maintenance by the service provider which helped to understand issues as well as fix responsibility has yielded results. The assessment found that 95% of the household toilets in all three cities were well-maintained and fully in use. This in turn will make it possible to sustain the open defecation free status.
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“The seven year's journey showed clearly that in all cities that are ever-growing, all concerns related to supply of service and its utilization cannot be addressed without strong decentralization, motivated urban local bodies confident of working shoulder to shoulder with community and making them an integral part of Ward Committees and Sanitation Task Force as envisaged in the 74th amendment. If the intent to make all cities sustainable then this intent has to not only be backed by will but also by people-centered design and execution, explains Akhila Sivadas, managing trustee and executive director of CFAR.
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