For the past 40 years, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has been working to address the challenges of water and sanitation in India. It has developed significant expertise in the fields of improving access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene promotion. AKF’s Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative, launched in 2015, is a multi-state programme directly supporting the national flagship campaigns, Clean India Mission and Jal Jeevan Mission. The focus is on facilitating access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and transforming long-standing behaviours that help reduce disease, create healthier communities and improve the quality of life in rural and urban settings. To date, the Initiative has facilitated 140,000+ households with improved access to toilets, with a 95% usage rate amongst families.
Today is World Toilet Day (WTD) 2019, and here is what some beneficiaries report from India:
Toilets improve health
“Earlier, people in our community, especially children, would often fall sick due to lack of toilets and poor sanitary conditions around hand pumps. People now who have access to functional WASH facilities are spending less on medical expenses. It took concerted efforts to convince, but people realised the importance of constructing toilets and the ill-effects on their health as a result of defecating in the open. Now, that every household in the village has access to functional toilets and clean drinking water, people are falling sick less frequently and are able to save money that was earlier used on doctor visits and medicines.” says Roshan Sadda, a Swachhagrahi (community leader) from Samastipur, Bihar who has motivated over 900 households to construct toilets and continues to persuade his community to adopt good hygiene habits. Enabling community participation to drive behaviour change for adoption of improved hygiene practices has been a key approach of the AKF Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative.
Sanitation eases life
“Earlier, when I did not have a toilet, I had to go into the open to defecate. I had to go out in the dark, as I was embarrassed if anybody would see me. Having access to a toilet and drinking water has eased my life. Now, I do not need to worry about my safety as the toilet is right next to my home. The Aga Khan Foundation team has also visited my house on a regular basis and teaches me how to keep my toilet clean and follow good hygiene practices such as washing my hands with soap after toilet use.” Sunita Devi is thrilled to have access to her very own toilet and water stand, which has eased her life drastically. Now, she does not need to venture out in the dark to defecate and travel long distances to fetch water. Interestingly her toilet is made of brick and mortar though she still lives in a thatched house.
“Leaving no one behind”
The WTD 2019 theme is "Leaving No One Behind". One of the key principles guiding the AKF Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative is to promote inclusive designs of sanitation models to ensure accessibility for all. About 7-8% of the project population live with some form of impairment. Addressing the concerns of those most in need, the Foundation has demonstrated community toilet models that are segregated, include handlebars, safe water access and ramps. To that extent, 5,379 persons with disabilities and 7,324 elderly have been ensured access to sanitation with 95% and 96% usage rate respectively.
Women drive change
Community engagement and ownership is crucial to achieving universal sanitation coverage, and AKF pays strong attention to this at every stage. Women are key drivers of change in their communities and helping spread messages on the importance of safe sanitation and hygiene practices. The AKF Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) programme works to empower and improve the quality of life of women and girls in both rural and urban areas of India. Commenced in 2015 as part of the Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative, the MHM initiative has supported over 25,000 women and girls and enabled them to improve their knowledge and practice of menstrual hygiene. "Once we began learning about our health and menstrual hygiene, things just did not stop there. Now we want more. We want to study and be on our feet.” Many of the girls who had dropped out of school at menarche have taken steps to resume their studies or to start taking jobs to support their families. Learning about their menstrual health has given these girls newfound confidence and encouraged them to make healthy changes in their lives.
For more information about the AKF Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative in India, click here.