Water & Sanitation - MANTRA

Our water and sanitation programme addresses the root of why rural populations in India remain impoverished. Most rural communities lack access to clean water and sanitation facilities and are therefore more prone to disease and thus demoralized and unable to defeat the cycle of poverty. The water and sanitation programme at Gram Vikas links common health concerns to poor sanitation and empowers communities to construct, manage and maintain their own sanitation facilities and launch development initiatives that improve community health and quality of life.

Gram Vikas mobilizes, educates and trains communities on how to construct, manage and maintain their own sanitation facilities. As part of the programme, community members pool resources to construct identical toilets and bathing rooms for each household, with clean piped water from a community-constructed water tank. The programme awakens the community's ability to independently sustain their own sanitation network through cooperative contribution and management systems such as financial training, construction skill building, and hygiene education workshops. Equitable financial and institutional mechanisms ensure that all families have access to sanitation facilities. A core fund (also called corpus) is established that plans for the future growth of the community by collecting an average of Rs. 1000/- per household, which is invested for future expansion of the sanitation system to deliver water and sanitation services to new households in the village.

The current social structure in many villages does not enable all community members to access clean water. To address this challenge and ensure universal access, Gram Vikas transforms the established social order making it mandatory that all households are included in the programme and that the female heads of households are involved in the decision-making process. The practice of 100 percent inclusion keeps villages clean and eliminates sources of water contamination as each and every member of the village is involved in establishing, maintaining and benefiting from the sanitation system. The policy of 100 percent inclusion is the first step in breaking down caste and gender barriers and allowing the marginalized to regard themselves as equals within the community. This development process is based on MANTRA governance programme's values of inclusion, sustainability, cost sharing and social and gender equity.

Clean drinking water and access to sanitation has resulted in over 80% reduction in incidences of waterborne diseases. A healthy community and habitat acts as a catalyst for sustainable development. Our Impact Assessment studies also suggest behavioural changes in communities with respect to hygiene and sanitation and increased involvement of women in decision making.

The majority of tribal communities that Gram Vikas' works with are un-electrified. To bring 24-hours of piped water supply to un-electrified villages, water from perennial springs are harnessed and diverted through pipelines, from as far as five-six kilometres. Principles of gravity flow and siphoning are used to traverse over small hills to ultimately reach a storage tank in the village and from there, to individual homes.

Gravity flow design for water-supply systems requires zero operating energy making the project financially attractive and easy to maintain. Another method that is used is called "Induced Gravity flow". This method involves harnessing the topography and natural gradient of the area, identifying a suitable location for a water source at a higher elevation from the village.

MANTRA - Experiences of Gram Vikas

Since 2004, Gram Vikas has formulated a holistic development approach called the "Movement and Action Network for Transformation of Rural Areas" (MANTRA). This approach has been designed from the learnings derived from working across cross cutting themes in the Integrated Tribal Development Projects and the Inclusive approach of the Rural Health and Environmental programme. The MANTRA framework unites communities to overcome barriers of social exclusion. Water and Sanitation which is used as an entry point to new settlements, not only acts as a vehicle to improved health but also as a way of transforming hierarchical caste and gender based exclusion into equitable inclusion. The initiation of Gram Vikas' interventions is contingent upon agreement and participation of 100% of the families in each village/habitation, ensuring that the benefits are shared equally among all, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or economic status.

Thereafter, a bathing room and a toilet is constructed for every household with community contributions. The water and sanitation programme provides an opportunity for the community to manage resources. People make bricks and collect rubble for the foundation, sand and aggregates. Unskilled young boys and girls - whom Gram Vikas trains in masonry - construct toilets and bathing rooms. The communities bear about 60% of the capital costs of sanitation and 25% of the costs of establishing the piped water supply system. People contribute, not only by collecting locally available constructing materials, but also by supplying skilled and unskilled labour. Communities also make efforts to tap discretionary funds available with local elected representatives.

Villagers identify sources to create an operations and maintenance fund, through improved pisciculture in the erstwhile bathing ponds, community horticulture plantations and social forestry in the village common lands and regular household collections. In some villages, a percentage (0.25%-0.50%) of the harvest is contributed towards the common fund. This fund is used to meet their recurring expenses for electricity and salary of the pump operator to keep the water supply systems functional at all times.

The programme has had a positive impact on the quality of life of all participating villages, through reduction of water-borne diseases and hence, a marked improvement in the health situation. Due to the importance given to personal hygiene, people have cleaner habits and are more aware of their responsibility in keeping not only themselves, but also their village clean. Thus, in these villages, roads, surroundings and water bodies are clean. Incidences of diseases, especially skin diseases and diarrhoeal incidents are monitored regularly. Studies have shown an 85% reduction in the incidence of water-borne diseases in these villages.

The WatSan programme acts as a strong base for Gram Vikas to venture into other sectors such as livelihoods, education and renewable energy based on the need of the communities. The trust which is built during the 3-5 year cycle of the WatSan programme is leveraged to make more meaningful interventions and restore dignity to the rural masses in the truest sense.

If you would like to read more about our MANTRA approach please access the MANTRA document on our Reports & Case Studies page.