When the Swachh Bharat Mission campaign first commenced in West Bengal’s southern district of Medinipur in 2015-16, it seemed an uphill task to bring about total sanitation to the district which had as many as 212,730 households without toilets. However, owing to its high literacy rate (89.10%) and community based approach; people quickly understood the link between good health and open defecation. The district was declared ODF on September 29, 2016.
The district administration with support from a rural development institution called Ramakrishna Mission Lokasiksha Parishad used different kinds of IEC (Information Education and communication) and IPC (Interpersonal communication) strategies to generate awareness among the community and they worked well, explained the District Nodal Officer, Suman Biswas.
Open defecation was rampant in the area before 1990. Thereafter, even though toilets were built using government subsidies, people continued to relieve themselves outdoors owing to lack of awareness and cultural practices. As a result, cholera, hepatitis and diarrhoea were common in the densely populated region, particularly among children. Besides, most of the people belonged to the low income category and therefore lacked motivation.
Use of IEC/IPC strategies
With the onset of the SBM-G, focus was given to community participation. Sansad meetings and gram panchayat level meetings were held with focus on health and hygiene. Even as community led total sanitation (CLTS) approach was used, several community volunteers committees were formed and they were responsible for controlling open defecation and spreading awareness about health related issues in their allotted areas.
“The administration was keen to change behaviour of the whole community rather than individuals,” he said. In this regard, various events such as World Environment Day on June-5, World Population Day on July-11, International Coastal Cleanup Day on September-17, World Nature Conservation Day on August-28 and World Toilet Day on November-19 were observed. During such events people not only participated in cleaning activities but learned about hygienic practices and the need to refrain from use of plastic carry bags. The message that open defecation can harm the environment and the community was made clear.
During the entire process, there was effective use of IEC and IPC, according to the District Nodal officer. Various kinds of flex hoardings, ODF stickers, messages transmitted on mikes, tableaus, door to door campaigning visits, distribution of leaflets, pamphlets was done at all educational institutes with a view to disseminating the message to the students’ families and the society.
Further, to promote behaviour change, innovative methods such as street dramas, folk songs, puppets shows and sanitation fairs were organised to build awareness about the harmful effects of open defecation. Also, several workshops were organised. The district also made good use of social media. Whatsapp was used to share good practices of others districts and states.
Involvement of the community
Considering that children are effective agents in bringing about behaviour change, sanitation discussions were organised in all schools in association with local NGOs and clubs. Further, Nirmal Vidayalaya Awards were given to schools that maintained a clean environment; and girl students were motivated to use toilets and sanitary pads to ensure good health.
When a gram panchayat achieved an ODF status, special ODF award ceremonies/celebrations were organised during which stakeholders were felicitated by the district administration in the presence of senior officials and dignitaries. Further, names of all members of ODF Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayats were displayed on ‘The Wall of Fame’ at the Zilla Parishad office.
A key to the success of the programme was perhaps the setting up of a time frame for all SBM workers to achieve their target. Further, for every block, a district level official was deployed as an ODF monitoring official to gear up construction as well as ODF related activities. Significantly, the disbursal of funds to GPs was linked to their ODF status.
It needs mention that having secured 4th place in the national cleanliness index, the communities wanted their district to be included in the list of ODF districts in the country. Also, one factor that kept everyone motivated was an announcement by the Chief Minister about a flexi fund of Rs. 10 lakh to the kitty of every District Magistrate who achieves ODF status.
As far as toilet construction was concerned, the district administration used contributory funds and convergence with MGNREGS. To ensure better coordination, support of political leadership was enlisted.
“We involved the Gram Panchayats as well as Panchayat Samity and Rural Sanitary Marts to work as Project Implementing Agency (PIA) for construction of IHHL (Individual Household Latrines),” Biswas said.
Sources of inspiration
Inspiration from the field came in many forms. One Pradhan from Itamogra GP not only achieved ODF+ status, but also put in his own contribution and CSR funds to construct a SLWM (Solid Liquid Waste Management) unit which is worth emulating. When rickshaw puller Jayanta Maity’s son of Vajachowli village, in Purba Medinipur was hospitalised owing to severe vomiting, the doctor advised his family to stop the practice of open defecation and suggested that they construct a toilet at home and use it. Considering that open defecation was common in the village, the doctor’s advice was an eye-opener. Using their own money, a toilet was built and now Jayanta is an active promoter of household latrines.