Grand Challenge Breakout Session: Toilets and Sanitation for All

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The Challenge and Context

As of 2009, 74 percent of rural India still did not have or use toilets. This has implications first on health, hygiene and well-being, and then on issues of safety, convenience and privacy. The Indian government introduced the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in 1999, with the aim to eradicate open defecation practices by 2017. As a part of this program, the government offers subsidies to villagers interested in building private toilets. Additionally, the TSC focuses on women and children and now has mandated that all members of local government build and use toilets in order to bring about behavioral change in the villagers. However, there is a great challenge with the translation of these policy measures into actual implementation and wide adoption of the program. The aim of this session is to brainstorm on possible solutions to this gap in implementation and to identify ways in which innovation can contribute to this effort.

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In order to base these solutioneering efforts in real-life contexts, team members from the Center for Knowledge Societies, along with a domain expert and volunteers, set out to conduct actual field research in rural areas. They spent a day in the village of Dandi Kanahalli, which is some distance from the city of Bangalore, in order to understand the toilet usage patterns from different respondents and gather a comprehensive view of the situation therein. They were accompanied by experts from the Arghyam foundation with wide experience with different health and sanitation-related programs in the region, as well as a familiarity with the village as well as its inhabitants.

Dandi Kanahalli is a village of 220 households where about 50% of the households have implemented the TSC program. They spoke to members of four different households, each of which have constructed toilets but have variations in usage patterns. For example, one respondent received the government subsidy and built a toilet, two others did not receive the subsidy but built toilets regardless, and one received the subsidy but had financial difficulties with completing construction and therefore has an unfinished and unusable toilet.

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The team found that the motivation to build toilets almost always arose out of a policy mandate, for example one of the respondents is a member of the panchayat, and had traveled abroad and had wide experience of toilets, but still did not construct one until it became compulsory to do so. They also found that the greater challenge lay with policy implementation rather than a behavioral reluctance to using toilets. In fact, there was an observable level of prestige and status attached to having a toilet in one’s house. One can see that the prestige of owning one’s own toilet is also linked to gradual shift of space in the location of the toilet: having a toilet far away from one’s home is less prestigious than one that is closer, while having a toilet attached to or inside of the main building signifies even higher status.

One of the main challenges to toilet construction is an obvious one: a lack of financial resources. However, despite that, the team found that there were no attempts to share toilets, or construct community toilets. This is true even in the case of pregnant or menstruating women.

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– Subsidies from the government
– Financial Support from government, NGOs etc.
– Shaming people into adopting toilets
– A campaign around sanitation that has a religious angle
– Implementing toilets in schools so that behavioral change starts with children and thereafter percolates to the rest of the family
– Give people a variety of toilets to choose from
– Composting toilets
– Waterless Toilets
– Make Public Goods Private
– Perhaps building really strong local government is a more plausible and possibly more effective solution, and toilets will follow
– Target women, and then children, and the men will follow
– NGO models that have already could be replicated
– JNURM model
– a private business model

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It seems as though the problem is so wide-ranging, with so many levels and complexities, that points of further action cannot really be distilled from the brief discussion that was had. However, out of the many ideas that were put forth, there were three specific ones that seemed the most valuable:

1. Supporting more NGOs working in this area: because of the attention to detail and the depth of their interaction with the community, they tend to work well.

2. Creating communal toilets where women are targeted, and the toilets also serve as more than simply a point for defecation – providing socializing opportunities. Considering that microfinance models with women beneficiaries have seen to be very successful, this could work as well.

3. Building stronger local governance. While this is a “grand challenge” in itself, it has been seen to work in many cases, and would overall be a more sustainable solution that also has much wider positive ramifications than solely toilets and sanitation.

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