action research

A sanitation overview – the significance of CLTS in India

Images of Open Defecation

India’s population accounts for approximately 1/7th of the world’s population. The Government of India has the immense challenge of governing and providing services for over 1.2 billion people.  As we were touching down in Mumbai last week (14th March 2012), and the infamous smell of the city hit our noses, I was reminded of the enormity of the task of governance and service provision for 1/7th of the world. The fact that Rose, Susan and I were in India to learn about the implementation of CLTS in the urban context of Nanded City, meant that we were acutely aware of the relationship between what we were smelling and sanitation service provision in cities in India.

Striking figures: toilets vs mobile phones

The day before our arrival (March 13, 2012), the Census Commissioner of India released census data that reported that 49.8% of the Indian population (about 600 million people!) practice open defecation. This was in stark contrast with the statistic that an estimated 68% of Indians (about 800 million people) own mobile phones – demonstrating that financial barriers were not the major problem, but rather prioritization of investments at household level. However, as one participant pointed out, these statistics need to be understood in terms of livelihoods. Mobile phones are now not only used for personal communication, but have become essential for conducting business, as well as maintaining professional networks in India (and indeed this is a global trend).  Toilets and sanitation, at first glance, do not have the same significance for livelihood (although sanitation does of course have a direct impact on one’s livelihood in terms of health status and ability to work). Given this situation, any social movement that is geared towards improving sanitation would do well to integrate a mobile component, for communication, coordination, monitoring and advocacy.

CLTS in the urban context

So far, CLTS has been implemented primarily in rural areas. The belief has been – even amongst CLTS practitioners – that urban sanitation is far too complicated and not conducive for the strict zero- subsidy approach.  The first attempt to adapt and implement CLTS methodology in an urban area was in the city of Kalyani in West Bengal (near Kolkata, within the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority) in India in 2008-2009. The second was in Mathare, village number 10 – an informal area of approximately 20,000 people in Nairobi, Kenya. The third is now Nanded City, with a population of 500,000 people located in Maharashtra State. Due to the sheer scale of the problem of open defecation, the CLTS approach is particularly important in India.

We had been invited by the Nanded-Waghala Municipal Corporation to share experience from Mathare at a sharing and learning workshop on urban CLTS. Kalyani was also represented by the ex-mayor of Kalyani, Dr. Shantanu Jha, a visionary leader and pioneer of urban CLTS.  Hearing about

Government housing for the urban poor

the work in Kalyani and Nanded was indeed inspiring. Kalyani was the first city in India to be declared open defecation free in 2008. After receiving word, the State Government of Kolkata took an interest, and in January 2009 also declared it officially ODF. However, the Indian government has not adopted CLTS as an official policy and as such has no framework for assessing ODF status. Instead, the Indian government is implementing mainly subsidy-focused development projects, such as Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) which provides low-cost, upgraded housing options for urban populations in informal settlements.

At the time of the urban CLTS work in Kalyani, the then mayor refused funds to build toilets and when he could not refuse BSUP funds, used them to reward those communities who had adopted CLTS and were working towards becoming ODF, once they had made significant progress. In an external evaluation, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation programme (WSP) pinpointed good governance as a key element in the success of urban CLTS in Kalyani. It is important to note that Kalyani is also a smaller, less densely populated city (approximately 100,000 people) and does not have many of the larger urban informal settlements that we are familiar with in Nairobi. It is a planned city with well laid out infrastructure. These three elements – good governance, relatively sparse population and planning – make it uniquely well-suited for urban CLTS implementation.

The Nanded case is also a story of a charismatic leader, Dr. Nipun Vinayak the Municipal Commissioner for Nanded-Waghala Municipal Corporation. Rather than being an elected official (as in the case of the Kalyani mayor) Nipun is an appointed officer of the local government, allocating and managing the budget for local development. Nipun has long been a champion of CLTS, and brought this with him when he was appointed to the Nanded Corporation about a year and a half ago. As part of his work in facilitating a city sanitation plan – together with the mayor and other local elected leaders (called Corporators – the equivalent of Councillors in Nairobi) – he invited two NGOs with experience in rural CLTS to lead the process of urban CLTS in Nanded who then facilitated urban CLTS pilots in several locations around the city. They had successes and challenges and over several months began to scale up the work in 28 different areas of the city.

Upgraded water treatment facility in Nanded

The urban CLTS work is taking place alongside several large-scale urban development works. Nanded is a holy site for the Sikh community – as the location where the last Sikh Guru made his final ascent. It is a major site for tourism and religious pilgrimage, and funding has been made available to support the development of the area’s tourism, expand roads, upgrade the water treatment facilities and improve sewage treatment in the city. This poses a challenge but also an opportunity for urban CLTS and Nanded would do well to learn from the lessons of Kalyani, where urban CLTS was successfully implemented alongside several large-scale infrastructure projects, such as BSUP.

Monitoring the urban CLTS process

At the workshop I shared my experience as a facilitator for monitoring and evaluation of urban CLTS, using digital technology. I have a keen interest in the CLTS process, the lessons that can be drawn from ‘triggering’ (as applied to different fields), and internal monitoring and external evaluation of CLTS. When integrated with well-established participatory approaches, new technology can be used to evaluate the resources required (eg through baselines surveys), to effectively communicate the sanitation situation and the need for investment in this area and to monitor the progress toward ODF. Work on CLTS has continually highlighted the need for improved monitoring and evaluation – and the proliferation of mobile phones represents an opportunity for citizens to become involved in monitoring the sanitation status of their cities. Of course, the political will also has to be strong to ensure that information is received and acted upon by the relevant authorities.

Sanitation and governance

In light of the scale of the sanitation crisis in India – 600 million open defecators – the approach of government subsidized toilets will fall short. Dr. Shantanu Jha posed the questions: is construction of toilets for 600 million people possible by the government? How? By when? Can the government address this by providing free and subsidized toilets? Despite lessons from elsewhere that have shown this approach to be ineffective, it is still favoured by governments worldwide, including the Government of India.

However change is indeed taking place; CLTS has been implemented in over 51 countries worldwide and as many as 15 governments have adopted CLTS as their national strategy for sanitation. CLTS provides an alternative, relatively low-cost approach but it requires courage and innovation. As Nipun put it: “Like they say, there’s nothing good about democracy except that its alternatives are worse. In the same way, CLTS is not the best approach, but it is better than anything else we know of.” We will look to Nanded over the coming months, to learn how they take this social movement forward and hope the ‘commandos’ and local government take up the call to “leave no one behind” in the improvement of the sanitation situation in the city.

This post was prepared for and originally posted on the CLTS blog.