Bihar workshop picks up pace to end open defecation


WSSCC co-convenes Rapid Action Learning to share strategies for faster success

Ramping up the elimination of open defecation in India’s northern state of Bihar was the theme of a three-day workshop convened in the state’s Patna district from October 29 to 31.

Seventy-five people – representing ten districts across the state, a civil society organization and two international development partners – gathered to share their experiences, best practices and lessons learned in their work to make communities open defecation free (ODF).

Employing a Rapid Action Learning (RAL) approach, the workshop exposed participants to tested and proven ideas they could build into their district action plans to accelerate progress towards ODF targets.

Ending open defecation is a major goal of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission), a national agenda to clean up roads and infrastructure in India’s urban and rural areas, with a particular focus on improving sanitation and hygiene and protecting fresh water resources.

The Bihar workshop was convened by the state government’s Lohiya Swachh Bihar Abhiyan, in collaboration with the UN’s Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and CLTS Knowledge Hub of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.

Ten teams were formed, one from each district, each composed of five or six participants. Over the three days, they engaged in peer-to-peer learning, benefiting from the experience of districts at different stages of the journey towards ODF. They made field visits to seven villages across two districts, and they incorporated newly-gained insights into action plans that were presented at the end of the workshop.

Challenges and Opportunities

In the process, the workshop unearthed a variety of challenges that have hindered progress across the districts, in four categories: administrative, technical, behavioral and other.

Administrative challenges include such things as communications gaps between state and district teams, delays in disbursements of funds due to inadequate payment processes, disinterest of the PRI in supporting and constructing toilets, problems with updating baselines, poor coordination between PRI’s and the administration, and pressure from the governments to achieve ODF.

In the technical category, participants found such challenges as a strong preference for septic tanks rather than twin pit toilet technology, faulty design of septic tanks, the lack of management of the construction material supply chain, delays in updating geo-tagging entries on the Management Information Systems (MIS), lack of a scalable toilet technology for areas that are flood prone or have a high water table, and a lack of disabled/elderly-friendly toilets.

With respect to behavioral challenges, participants identified lack of awareness of WASH, high levels of poverty and illiteracy, the difficulties of conducting CLTS in heterogeneous communities, non-use of IHHL due to delays in incentive money, difficulties in the operation and maintenance of IHHL, and reduced construction of IHHL due to demand of incentive money in advance.

Other challenges include the lack of skilled people at the implementation stage, the need for regular capacity-building trainings, lack of trained staff at the Key Resource Centre at the district and state levels, lack of space for constructing toilets in some vulnerable communities, the difficulty of maintaining momentum with Nigrani Samiti and Swachhagrahis in the absence of incentives and recognition, the lack of availability and maintenance of public or community toilets, and a lack of community toilets for migrant communities.

Participants also identified numerous key learnings that correspond to many of these challenges, such as the benefits of using ‘change agents’ ranging from community leaders to children to help shift attitudes and behaviors, the development of diagnostics that will promote inclusion of poor, vulnerable and marginalized communities (including disabled), strengthening construction material supply chains, and providing twin pit composting demonstrations in each village, among others.

A big part of the challenge in accelerating progress towards ODF targets has to do with the need for approaches that can be replicated on a large scale. Eleven examples of practical scalable initiatives were identified by workshop participants, ranging from the use of school children and teachers as major flag-bearers for creating awareness of sanitation issues, to hosting sporting events in non-ODF villages and denying teams from those villages the opportunity to participate.

Next Steps

Feedback from workshop participants was favorable, indicating that the ideas and insights shared were useful and that the three days will make a positive contribution to their work. Several requests were made for similar workshops to be held in other districts of Bihar leading to full coverage of the state.

In terms of next steps, it was agreed that districts would implement the action plans that were developed at the workshop, continue to share innovative practices through RAL in other districts, and partner with development organizations to set up Rapid Action Learning Unit in Bihar.

“The RAL workshop has been very beneficial for the state, district and local functionaries as the process followed was very simple and strategic and helped in cross district learning effectively,” said Shri Arvind Kumar Chaudhary, I.A.S., Secretary, Rural Development Department, Government of Bihar, adding that the Bihar Government will promote the RAL approach in other sectors as well.

Shri Chaudhary also commented on the important role played by Jeevika, a civil society organization working for the empowerment and improved livelihoods of its membership of nine million rural women throughout Bihar. He mentioned that Bihar Government will promote RAL approach in other sectors as well.

“It gives me immense pleasure to have Jeevika as the implementing structure in Bihar as we use their models to achieve success by constant trainings with Jeevika women and would now have more of them with WSSCC and IDS,” he said, referring to the increased trainings made possible through the support of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and the Institute of Development Studies of Sussex University.