Safe drinking water and sanitation are among the most important determinants of community health and wellbeing. In Odisha, access to both is extremely difficult. The majority of population (85 per cent) lives in rural areas, where sanitation coverage is merely 14.1 per cent and only 5.8 per cent households have access to piped water (Roy, 2012).
In the recent decades, public water supply has become more centralised, with the focus shifting to ‘mega-projects’ that draw water from a single source to cater to larger populations, often exceeding 20,000 people. Per head capital as well as operational expenditures are much higher in these projects. Large projects are also subject to bureaucratic and technical controls, moving ownership away from communities. Further, quality and quantity of water supplied often tends to be poor and unreliable, owing to poor operation and maintenance. Against these shortfalls, the decentralised supply systems offer a wide range of possibility to provide safe drinking water. This is also of special significance in areas where centralised supply systems are not feasible due to technical, economical or institutional reasons.
Water and Sanitation | Need for Community Ownership
In the early 1990s, Gram Vikas, a rural development organisation working with poor and marginalised communities in Odisha observed that over 80 per cent of morbidity and mortality in rural areas could be traced to poor quality of drinking water. This laid the genesis of an ambitious programme around drinking water and sanitation, especially in those tribal areas which had not been able to get any attention from the State (Gram Vikas, 2016).
Non governmental organisations have for a long time been working with the government in social welfare activities and in seeking people’s participation in acceptance and ownership of the programmes. Since 1995, Gram Vikas has been running a community based water and sanitation supply programme—Movement and Action Network for Transformation in Rural Areas (MANTRA) in 25 districts. This provides the overarching framework of Gram Vikas’ development initiatives.
Water and Sanitation | The Operational Model
Each family in the programme area is encouraged to build their own toilet and bathing room, but it is the village community that is jointly responsible for building piped water supply system in each hamlet. The village piped water supply system in villages is built jointly by Gram Vikas and the Village Water Sanitation Committee (VWSC). A MoU governs the partnership between the two entities.
The VWSC is an institution that owns and manages piped water supply system in the targeted geographies and mobilises funds through diverse channels like the government, national and international development organisations and corporate social responsibility initiatives. The VWSC is formed through selection /election by the general body of the village comprising all adult males and females. Elected office bearers of the VWSC and personnel from Gram Vikas jointly manage the construction phase, the funds for which are raised through government schemes or private donors.
An overhead water tank is constructed based on estimates of per capita consumption of water, projected for the population twenty years hence. The tank ensures 24 hour running water for every household. The water is pumped up using electric pumps where available and in hilly areas the water is sourced from perennial springs using the gravity flow method. People contribute at least 50 per cent of the costs of the toilets and bathing room construction and up to 10 per cent of the total cost of establishing water works. The approximate cost of constructing a toilet and bathing room comes to INR 32,000 while the cost of establishing a water supply ranges from INR 35,000-90,000 per household. The idea is to ensure that the benefitting community has a substantial stake, as it is critical in instilling a strong sense of ownership for the assets created.
As of March 2016, about 1200 villages covering 78,305 households have established their own drinking water supply systems under the MANTRA programme. In 51 per cent of villages, the water source is a drilled bore well, while in 12 per cent these are shallow dug wells. In the remaining villages, drinking water is sourced from a spring or a mountain stream. In many cases solar electricity is used to run the pumps. More work is under progress in another 203 villages (Gram Vikas, 2016).
Ensuring Water Supply
The VWSCs pays for the capital expenses, operation and maintenance and provides financial assistance to new families in the villages intending to build twin-pit pour flush toilets and bathing rooms. For these purposes, resources are mobilised from the community’s village corpus fund. Set up with an initial contribution of INR 1000 on average per family, the corpus fund is maintained in a bank fixed deposit and the interest income earned from the deposit is used to meet the maintenance charges. As on March, 2016 communities had put together a corpus fund of INR 90.05 million. Studies also showed an 85 per cent reduction in the incidence of water borne diseases in these villages (ibid).
It is important that motivation and capacities of village communities to manage the demand for and use of water for drinking, domestic uses and farm production is continually built. This is particularly critical in the emerging political environment. At a policy level, the domain of centralised versus localised and decentralised solutions needs to be addressed. The dependence on monolithic applications of technologies, at scales and levels far removed from communities needs to be questioned, and at the same time alternatives that meet the challenges need to be developed and demonstrated.
Roy D., 2012. Rapid Appraisal of the Rural Water and Sanitation and Water in Orissa, National Rural Health Mission, Government of Odisha.
Gram Vikas, 2016. Movement and Action Network for Transformation in Rural Areas (MANTRA), Available at: https://bit.ly/2zRXl6M