An estimated 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually and 1.5 million children die of diarrhea, creating an immense need to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Further, since drinking water infrastructure is poorly maintained, the availability of adequate drinking water is another challenge. With 79% of the 21 million in Chhattisgarh who reside in rural areas at risk, ‘Multi – District Assessment of Water Safety (M-DAWS) Project in Chhattisgarh’, ‘Water Quality Surveillance & Mitigation’ and ‘Capacity Building and Mitigation measures of drinking water hand pumps (HP)’ are three programmes specifically designed to address these issues. We work closely with the Government of Chhattisgarh through UNICEF and PHED to address drinking water and sanitation requirements in Konta, Sukma and Chhindgarh blocks, Dantewada district (presently Sukma district), Chhattisgarh.
Here we have successfully prepared and demonstrated Water Safety Plans (WSP). This includes sanitary surveillance of drinking water sources, design of simple and cost effective technical solutions ensuring access to ‘safe’ drinking water, awareness generation of village institutions and local communities (water user groups) on improved WASH practices and training of local youth on operation and maintenance (O&M) of drinking water infrastructure (hand pumps). Of special mention are training programmes on Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM). The groups targeted on a priority basis include women, anganwadi workers and school children.
Our learnings from Dantewada district comprise of a renewed confidence in the effectiveness of Water Safety Planning (WSP) and Information Education and Communication (IEC) in addressing WASH challenges. Here, working with communities affected by political conflict and with a low priority for WASH was the main challenge. Despite this, an indication of its success is its growth in coverage and scope. With humble beginnings of working with 4 IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps, we are now working in IDP camps and 40 villages. Gram Panchayats too have come forward to pilot the Water Safety Plans, with Water User Groups making conscious efforts to ensure safe and hygienic conditions around all drinking water sources. Further, while trained cadres of hand pump technicians are repairing hand pumps; refresher trainings and continued institutional support are required for their effective functioning as potential extension arms to the PHED. A further reflection of encouragement is a continued partnership with UNICEF and requests for introduction of similar approaches in other districts by both the state and corporates such as State Groundwater Board (SGWB), Civil Society Organizations, Bharat Aluminum Company Limited (BALCO), ACC, BILT, LAFARGE etc.