Sanitation Initiative Changes Mind Set, Reaps Results
MEDAK, India, 19 November 2012 | By Prosun Sen
“Where there is a will, there is a way.” This is not an adage but a fact as far as the people of Medak district in southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is concerned. Here, open defection was widely prevalent till recent. It used to be a serious challenge to prevent the onslaught of life-threatening epidemics, especially during the rainy season.
“Today the villagers are keeping better health. This was not the case last year, when one could see hordes of villagers making a beeline to consult the doctors for treatment of diseases like diarrhea or viral fever,” says Satyamma, ex-sarpanch (village head) of Yellupalli village in Siddipet block, with a sigh of relief and happiness on her face.
She adds, in the same breath, “All this became possible only with the “Intinta Parishudyam” (meaning, sanitation in every house) programmae launched by the district officials in coordination with UNICEF.” She admits that ‘open defecation’ is an age-old practice and accepted as a part of the culture especially in many rural parts of the state. “But, when we were told by the health workers and officials of the importance to keep our living places clean as well avoid polluting the surroundings of the village, which is a health hazard, it indeed brought a change in our mind set.”
The transformation of this village also bears testimony to the fact that if people’s representatives, local administrators and community-based social groups join hands to improve the basic facilities in the village, it paves way for a success story. This is true in the case of Yellupalli village where, thanks to the contribution of all involved, the 220 families of the village built toilets in a record three months’ time.
It is no exaggeration that today Yellupalli looks ‘clean and green’ and gives an impression to a visitor as one of the most progressive villages in the entire state. There is no garbage scattered anywhere in the village. Akin to bigger cities, the gram panchayat’s cart-wheel vehicle is seen constantly clearing piled up garbage from time to time, while the cleaning staff spares no effort to ensure a free-flow of drainage.
Sanitation in every house
Though sanitation continues to be one of the prime concerns for the State as well as district administration for many years, it gained momentum in Medak district only through the “Intinta Parishudyam” (meaning, sanitation in every house) initiative. The latter was initiated in the district with UNICEF extending support in training the district administrators to execute this initiative successfully with the help of Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Anganwadis, civic and district health workers.
The district administrators identified 502 villages covering more than 1.4 lakh households. They designed the “Intinta Parishudyam” mass awareness campaign with the support of UNICEF, which was inaugurated by the State’s Chief Minister, N Kiran Kumar Reddy, covering over 1 lakh households. Special officers were assigned for each of the 46 mandals (sub-district) and an Adoption Officer (AO) was allocated for each of the 502 selected villages to oversee the successful execution of this initiative.
Convergence between the line departments was ensured through regular meetings at the constituency level with all officials, CBOs and other stakeholders. SHG leaders at the village, sub-district and district level were trained on “Community Approaches to Total Sanitation” (CATS) to mobilize their communities. Thereafter, the groups started making resolutions in their regular meetings to make their village “Open Defecation Free” within a specific time-frame.
A cursory visit to any of these 502 villages in 46 mandals gives a ‘new look’ with ‘clean and green’ environs and acceptably maintained drainage system, in addition to nearly all households having individual toilets.
A similar experience greets one in the adjoining Gopalraopet village in Medak district.
End to open defacation
“Only 25-30 households of the 202 in our village used to have toilets earlier. Now all the 202 households have toilets in place, with people getting accustomed to use them without hesitation,” says Saraswati, Chairman of Anganwadi of Gopalraopet village. She claims that today villagers realize the importance of ‘upkeep of their environs’ which has multiple benefits.
According to her, “Though the rainy season this year there have been no reports of any break-outs of epidemic in our village. Having a toilet at home has also ensured greater security to our young girls, who hitherto walked a half or one kilometer away from the village to find secluded places for relieving themselves. They not only ran into physical risk, but also faced poisonous insect’s bites, including snakes at times.”
Nearly all villages of Medak district have the similar story of successfully implementing the “Intinta Parishudyam” initiative to tell. One village gram panchayat office greets people with a warning: “Open defacation penalty of Rs 100!”
In Veltur village, where out of the targeted 315 households as many as 308 have already completed construction of toilets, Sarpanch Swaroopa claims, “In our village none dares to venture out for open defacation as we made usage of toilets mandatory.”
When asked, she admitted that it was the local SHG that came forward to support those who could not afford, to enable them build toilets. “As finance became no constraint, most of those who could ill-afford were given advance loans and adjusted it with the government aid,” explains local Mahila Sangham activist Malleshwar. From time to time, a house-to-house campaign was also carried out explaining how to keep their newly built toilets clean.
The Project Director of the district rural development wing, P Ravinder, admits that though it was a herculean task to motivate the people to upkeep their surroundings, he attributes the success to the SHGs and other department wings for their excellent joint coordination. He explains that closely monitoring the progress of the campaign was the key to its success. “Weekly updates from each of the villages were obtained and the progress tracked using GIS maps,” says Ravinder.
The good news is that the success story of Medak district has prompted the state’s Chief Minister, N Kiran Kumar Reddy, to direct all other districts in the state to replicate this model. This initiative has also attracted national attention with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation inviting the Medak District Collector to make a presentation at the All-India Secretaries meeting recently, following which a central team also visited the district and appreciated the tremendous progress made.