WASH Talks at Stockholm World Water Week

Date: 12th September 2019

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WSSCC hosted a series of talk shows with special guests at 2019 World Water Week in Stockholm. Here is Dr. Robert Chambers, Research Associate at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, who was previously based in India and has a long-standing commitment to supporting Swachh Bharat Mission

[WSSCC] Can you tell us about your involvement in India with the Swachh Bharat Mission?

[Dr. Robert Chambers, Research Associate, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex] Yes, I have been involved since the beginning of the mission, indeed before it, in trying to support the Indian government in its work on rural sanitation. As part of that, we have convened a series of workshops which we have called “Rapid Action Learning”. Now, Rapid Action Learning is learning very fast and sharing the learning with others fairly fast about what is really happening, what works and what doesn’t work. That’s been one thrust: Rapid Action Learning workshops. And, this [Dr. Chambers showing a document] is a guide to convene and facilitate these workshops.

Now, we’ve had about fifteen of them, all of them in association with WSSCC, indeed some of them being conducted by WSSCC without our Institute of Development Studies’ direct involvement.

The basic idea of these workshops is to bring together people within government to identify innovations and good practices which they want to share with their colleagues and then to facilitate a process in which as many as nine districts could be involved. This includes something we called “hunter gathering” and this is where they go out and in a rather, apparently chaotic, but actually very systematic way, find out from others what innovations they had, good practices which they can then adopt. And we have a role here: we produce a report in forty-eight hours in the end and that’s a very good discipline because it means that the report is short and it goes out almost immediately and actually is much more rightly if you can manage that. So, that’s one of the thrusts that we have.

Another one has been what we call “immersive research”. This is where students or researchers go and stay in communities and live with a family for usually three days and nights just wondering around and asking people questions and discuss things with them. In this way, we get a very good feedback on what is really happening at the grassroots level and then again it comes out in a report, hopefully quite quickly.

Agile and proactive “Rapid Research”

Another one that we’ve innovated is “Rapid Research” and this has been in a topic which is relatively neglected to try and open it up. One of these recently has been about retrofitting which is where something needs to be done to toilets and identifying what those things are. We have a report on that, we have another report on water because what happens when open defecation ends, and what you might call “close defecation” starts, is that much more water is used. With open defecation it’s a low tar which is a bit less than a liter usually that’s used for anal cleansing. Sometimes as much as two buckets of water are used when it’s in the toilet. This places an enormous burden on women, particularly in environments where water is scarce. So, we are trying to investigate ways of using less water requiring less water. That’s another thrust.

It’s been very exciting working with WSSCC. Without whom we wouldn’t have had the access and also with WaterAid and Delhi University and with the government. Now, the government has also had its own innovation which was called a “Swachh-a-thon” which was crowdsourcing on internet innovations from all over the country and that has been done entirely without us but in the same spirit of rapid action learning: learning rapidly through action and from action.

Identify the grassroots realities with an approach: “Community LNOB”

So, we’ve had a lot of things ongoing and we’ve now reached a very exciting stage I think, in which there seems to be – from people I have talked to here at Stockholm World Water Week – international interest, and perhaps some parallels that we can all learn from. And this is what we are calling “Community LNOB.” This is Community Leave No One Behind. CLTS, Community-Led Total Sanitation, still has a long way to run and that’s applicable in many countries. There are places though, and India is one of them, where it’s difficult to implement CLTS because of the government subsidy.

This crude chart is something that we improvised in a workshop with 35 district-level Information-Education-Communication people, just 10 days ago. So it’s very hot of the press. And this is what we are proposing: the idea of following-up later in the process when quite a lot of toilets have been built and asking the community if they would make a map. Now it’s not the CLTS map, the CLTS map is typically on the ground, typically using yellow for areas that are open defecation and so on. This is different. This is on paper but it’s community itself, members of the community drawing on paper all the households which you can see in this, and then marking in those with particular characteristics where something needs to be done.

And this could be particularly people with disabilities, or, also very important, it’s floating population, people who come in for a short time and then leave again and defecate in the open of course when they are in. It could be old people who have their own special problems. Then, it’s about asking the community, “What can you do about these problem households?” and try to enable them to see where they can act.

Very often old people and people with disabilities will be able to do something by themselves, but there may be other activities where they need some sort of outside assistance, but one of the great advantages of this approach is that it will identify the grassroots realities and enable planners in government to see the magnitude or otherwise of what they have to achieve.

[WSSCC] Going forward, what are your thoughts on the implementation of this and how can we roll this out?  

[Dr. Chambers] We’ll have to see what the experience has been in the 70 cases where it’s been tried out last week and this week. And then we’ll be able to see a way forward. We need to produce some sort of guide to help other people, we need to spread this internationally, I think we need to network internationally because there are other countries, others organizations which are doing something similar or which face similar problems: it’s seems to me that this is just the right moment for these which we are calling “community LNOB” which Leave No One Behind which is a major theme at this conference and it’s absolutely right that this should be seen and this is a potential mean for leaving no one behind in sanitation.

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