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Planning and Building Activities in India

Aga Khan Planning and Building Services assists communities to install and maintain sanitation units, improve village water supplies, construct water-harvesting systems, and monitor water quality.Aga Khan Planning and Building Services assists communities to install and maintain sanitation units, improve village water supplies, construct water-harvesting systems, and monitor water quality.The Aga Khan Planning and Building Service in India (AKPBS,I) has, since 1970, been working to improve the built environment, particularly by facilitating quality housing design and construction, village planning, management of natural hazards, environmental sanitation, water supplies and other factors that contribute to an improvement in the quality of life (Download PDF brief on Women and Sanitation). It works in select regions in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. In addition, it designs and promotes improvements to low-cost housing and physical infrastructure. AKPBS,I also provides material and technical expertise, training, as well as construction management services to rural and urban areas.

Regional and Environmental Issues
In resource poor and environmentally degraded areas prone to natural disasters and droughts, people and the environment are often trapped together in a downward spiral manifested by low income levels, lack of basic shelter and sanitation infrastructure, limited access to poor quality health and education services, and insufficient access to clean drinking water. New infrastructure and programmes can rarely keep up with population growth.

Water and sanitation problems debilitate and kill in large numbers, limiting economic growth, educational access, and life opportunities. In India water-borne diseases due to the lack of safe drinking water remain the single largest reason for child mortality in the ‘below five’ age-group. According to recent estimates about 1.5 million children under five die each year from water-borne diseases, primarily diarrhoea. The country also loses over an estimated 200 million workdays annually due to these diseases.

Even in villages defined by the government as "fully covered", i.e., those where water supply infrastructure exists, water supply is erratic or the quality is suspect.

In western India, water scarcity is now the single biggest threat to livelihoods, as falling groundwater levels and shrinking rivers make less water available for agriculture and for domestic drinking purposes. In rural areas women are spending increasing amounts of time and energy travelling long distances to get water. In the dry regions of Rajasthan for example, they spend as much as four hours a day and walk an average six km for water. Another study revealed that women in the drought prone regions of Gujarat and the flood affected areas of Uttar Pradesh walked similar distances and spent as much time to fetch water, each day.

Besides availability, water quality is another issue. Excessive fluoride is a major threat to human health in over 2500 villages in Gujarat. Excess nitrate in drinking water constitutes a threat to blue-baby disease. Near the coast, sea water intrusion as a result of excessive withdrawal of groundwater poses a perpetual threat. Dental and skeletal fluorosis, kidney and gall bladder stones, gastro-intestinal problems and skin disease are common aliments that afflict the young and old alike. Women of reproductive age and children are particularly vulnerable.
Currently, only 12 percent of people living in rural India are covered by safe sanitation facilities. Lack of adequate toilet facilities in schools, for example, affects attendance, particularly of girls. Alternatively, mothers are more likely to send their daughters to school if there is a provision for separate toilets for girls.

Women too have to deal with the indignity of inadequate sanitation infrastructure such as toilets and bathrooms on a daily basis. Older or ill women or those who are menstruating, pregnant or the disabled face even more problems. Both these factors have a direct impact on the built environment as well as health and hygiene practices. Access to adequate water and sanitation is therefore a key factor in the elimination of poverty. Poor management of finite water resources impacts disproportionately on the poorest.

Provision of Integrated Services
"Adequate shelter" means more than just a roof over one’s head. It includes access to basic urban services, environmental management and equitable access to land and credit.

AKPBS,I assists communities to install and maintain sanitation units, improve village water supplies, construct water-harvesting systems, and monitor water quality. In urban areas, it provides technical advice on design, construction and financing to cooperative housing units. Community involvement helps increase local capabilities in building and management. AKPBS,I ensures that these considerations are taken into account at the village level in mapping and planning activities. All projects are carefully evaluated for financial sustainability.

AKPBS,I seeks to create financially sustainable service provision, decentralize decision-making, increase efficiency levels through building capacities and the introduction of management systems and encourage transparency by increased civil society consultation and participation.

Rural Water Supply and Sanitation
By 2007, AKPBS,I seeks to improve the health and well being of over 265,000 rural beneficiaries living in the three districts of Junagadh, Patan and Jamnagar in Gujarat. It looks to the community, once informed and organised, to take the lead in supporting water and sanitation infrastructure that ensures adequate village coverage; and practise water management and hygiene behaviour that contributes to improved health and well-being, especially of women and children under the age of five.

Physical interventions take place both at the individual and the community level. Toilets, bathrooms, soak pits, water connections and drainage connections are constructed for private homes. Cattle water troughs, extension of drainage and water distribution networks, construction of rain water harvesting structures are built by and for the community.

To facilitate improved water management the organisation also builds check dams, groundwater recharge structures such as percolation tanks and water distribution systems. It also works closely with the community to improve water use efficiency.

Women and children are motivated and encourages to adopt improved hygiene practices such as washing hands with soap, using clean utensils, covering water vessels and using a ladle to draw out water from it. Already in Thakrasan village for example, cases of diarrhoea prevalence are down by over 50 percent.

Community Participation
Community endorsement and participation is central to AKPBS,I’s implementation strategy. It begins at the outset when field staff begins interacting with the community. It has been observed that sanitation rarely tops the agenda of ‘community needs.’ Most communities consider livelihood interventions as their top priority. However after dialoguing with the community, sanitation usually emerges as the second or third priority. The community eventually contributes up to 70 percent of inputs (in cash or kind or both) in the case of private sanitation units. In the case of community owned units, the contribution exceeds 30 percent.

Participation begins with the formation of a Village Development Committee (VDC) that represents all sections of the village community including women and marginalised sections (a VDC must comprise of a minimum of 30 percent women). Fifteen percent of the VDC are Panchayat (a grassroots government body) members as well. On an average there are 12 to 14 communities (religious/ethnic) in a village.

The VDC opens and operates a joint bank account (to which AKPBS,I is a joint signatory for two years). Funds for the operation and maintainence (O&M) of shared infrastructure are deposited in this account. Community contributions and subsequent user charges levied on the community are also pooled into this account. In Thakrasan village, user charges work out to be Rs 14 per family (US$ 0.30) per year for a domestic water supply system.

Separate meetings are held with women and the under-privileged to elicit their involvement to enable gender equity and a pro-poor bias. This approach ensures the representation and involvement in the decision making process of at least 70 percent of the village population. Communities are then mobilised within the selected villages to prepare a Village Action Plan (VAP): a document that outlines work to be done and terms and conditions of executing it.

Subsequently, Village Technical Advisory Groups (VTAG) comprising of local technicians, masons and other skilled workers are formed. These groups are provided with technical guidelines and trained required to monitor work progress, especially the quality of the materials and workmanship. The VTAG also ensures proper operations and maintenance of shared village infrastructure. It also serves as a platform for villagers with technical know-how to share their ideas for improving water and sanitation infrastructure.

Community Ownership
On an average AKPBS,I spends six months in the preparatory stage, beginning with needs assessment surveys and culminating in the development of the Village Action Plan. Another 12 to 18 months is spent in the implementation stage, during which period (actual construction of hardware) interventions take place while simultaneously preparing the community for ownership. The final commissioning and handing over stage takes another 3-6 months or so, during which period ownership of the built infrastructure reverts back to the community. From this time onwards, the community is responsible for all operations and maintenance issues. Handing over also involves the VAP registering all the assets in panchayat records. Post this period, field staff regularly monitor the community’s progress over the next six months. After this period, AKPBS,I intervenes only in the case of village need and time specific reviews.

School Sanitation
The lack of sanitation directly affects the education of girls. It affects their attendance levels (especially during their menstruation cycle), retention, enrolment and also safety (since girls using deserted areas or fields to relieve themselves dramatically increase their risk of encounters with molesters or rapists). School sanitation programmes organised by AKPBS,I in the Bhuj region of Gujarat (where it one of the implementing partners of an integrated post-earthquake rehabilitation programme) have ensured that parents are less reluctant to send girls to school. Staff interact directly with teachers and students, provide safe drinking water in schools, ensure separate toilets for girls and raise awareness levels about water borne diseases. Similarly girls put pressure on their parents to construct toilets at home in addition to raising standards of health and hygiene (such as washing hands with soap or covering drinking water jars).

The Built Environment

Post Disaster Interventions in Rural Gujarat
Immediately after an earthquake struck Gujarat in January 2001, AKPBS,I was one of the first agencies to do a detailed assessment of the damage caused to the built environment in specific areas, primarily in the Bhuj region (the epicentre of the earthquake). The assessment included a comprehensive listing of damaged or destroyed structures as well as aiding Focus Humanitarian Assistance, an AKDN affiliate and an international disaster relief organisation with a vulnerability study of the communities in those areas.

In addition to building 300 temporary shelters for economically weaker sections in Anjar town, AKPBS,I also provided "technical assistance" leading to the construction of 150 seismic resistant houses and retrofitted another 200 houses in Gujarat.

Later, as part of an integrated post earthquake rehabilitation project, AKPBS,I constructed 228 low-cost houses in Bhuj. Based on community requirements, toilets and bathrooms were also incorporated within these homes, many of lived in homes without sanitation infrastructure. AKPBS,I has ensured that these houses are seismic as well as cyclone resistant. The houses have been designed in a manner that allows them to be expanded without affecting light and ventilation.

In addition to providing housing facilities to rural communities, AKPBS,I also enabled affected populations in this area to build shared infrastructure such as bathing platforms, water troughs for cattle, toilets, bathrooms and soak-pits and school sanitation.

Urban Built Environment
In addition to focusing on the rural built environment, AKPBS,I also works towards enhancing the quality of life for urban dwellers through appropriately built environment interventions.

In urban areas AKPBS,I often acts as a facilitator for select cooperative housing societies (CHS), when approached to do so by the community. This involves working with the builder / promoter at all stages, including overseeing technical, legal and financial reviews related to the construction of the society.

AKPBS,I also promotes group housing for lower, middle and higher income groups using the cross subsidy model. This model ensures that economically weaker beneficiaries pay for the cost of construction only and not the cost of land. No such concessions are available to the middle and higher income groups.

Going a step further AKPBS,I is now helping develop a CHS in Hyderabad spread over 10.5 acres of land using the integrated development plan (a plan that ensures that the spatial planning and design of the housing society takes the varied considerations and requirements of the end-users into account). This housing project, the largest till date for AKPBS,I is being designed by renowned architects and will put special focus on infrastructure such as health and shopping facilities within the society.

Disaster Vulnerability Assessments
In selected urban areas AKPBS,I has also undertaken seismic vulnerability assessment - identifying and mapping of earthquake vulnerable structures. AKPBS,I will soon focus on the structural strengthening of these community housing societies in high seismic vulnerable zones in order to mitigate the effects of earthquakes.

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