WASH Programmes for Strengthening Water and Sanitation in Urban Settings

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
At the start of the century, the United Nations had set up a Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for the various countries of the world. Two of the key goals they looked to achieve back in the year 2000 was to halve the number of people in the world without drinking water and sanitation by 2015.
The sad aspect of this goal for India, seen as one of the key beneficiaries owing to its huge population, was that had the goal been achieved, that would still have meant that over 330 million Indians did not have the basic necessity of clean water.

That, in a single line, encompasses the struggle we face today. 

The fact of the matter is that simply providing an option for water alone is not enough either. The source needs to be sustainable and potable, ready to use for the population of the area. And sadly, that is where we have faltered even after all these years. Most of the areas that have been provided a rudimentary drinking water source find the source invariably contaminated by agricultural run off, sewage and sadly their own human and household wastes. They thus end up easy victims to outbreaks of gastroenteritis and cholera, both water borne diseases. In fact, even today, over 20% of all communicable diseases in our country remain water related. Diarrhea alone causes over 1400 deaths every single day. The truth is that,  even from a financial point of view, the economic losses faced because of lack of proper sanitation facilities far outweighs the amount required to provide it in the first place.

To add to the burden of availability of usable water is the issue of hygiene, or rather, the lack of it. The twin dilemmas of access and knowledge regarding hygienic practices cripples India at the very first step, making the task of attaining good health even more daunting. Over the last few years, the media has rightly placed emphasis on the importance of having the basic facility of a latrine in every household, something that barely 14% of rural India had access to.

This disparity is not exclusive to rural India though, as studies point out. Even within the urban settings, there is a vast gap between the haves and the have-nots. With nearly half the population of urban India too residing in low income settlements and slums, there is a genuine concern over the availability of water and sanitation for this populace too. Despite living in cities and metros, they face the same issues as those in rural India, with poor access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

Yes, we have made considerable progress since the start of the century but we are still a long way away from being triumphant. We still hold the tragic record of having half of the world's population of malnourished children. We still have the highest number of people in the world, in pure numbers, who do not have the basic right of access to useable water. 

Which is why the recent initiative of Coca-Cola is truly commendable. In association with TERI University, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), they have launched the "Strengthening Water and Sanitation in Urban Settings" initiative, termed " the WASH Program" (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene). Looking to help the government achieve their targets by strengthening water and sanitation in urban settings, the aim is to reach 50,000 beneficiaries in low-income settlements and over 300 professionals through WASH governance studies. 

Launch of the 'Strengthening Water and Sanitation
in Urban Settings' programme

The first step in this endeavor will be conducting a WASH risk analysis in slums of Kolkata and Chennai with two urban neighborhoods – Kannagi Nagar and Nedunchelliyan Nagar in Chennai, and areas in KMC wards 57 and 58 (Khayari bastiArupota and Dhapa) in Kolkata – chosen for household surveys.
A talent pool of professionals will also be chosen who will look to develop innovative models to support the Government's urban development programs including the Swachh Bharat Mission. With the primary focus on water resource management, they look to create awareness among the youth and leaders of India alike on the need for developing and implementing sustainable solutions for the problem of sanitation.

The fact that world bodies like USAID and Coca-Cola have come forward and are using their resources to assist us in reaching our goals for hygiene and sanitation is heartening and welcome. More than stop gap solutions, the need of the hour is for long term innovative solutions and getting these solutions to those who truly need it.

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