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WASH Sector Reflections in India

By Arpita Chatterjee, Water For People and Shiny Saha, IRC

Amongst civil society organisations in India there is a growing acceptance of the need for system strengthening for sustainable services for all, and that all the actors of the system work together to strengthen the various elements of the system. Thus, along with the Government of India’s investments in increasing access to water and sanitation infrastructure (as reflected in Swachh Bharat and Jal Jeevan Missions), strengthened policies, institutions, planning, monitoring and the other aspects of the WASH system, can result in sustainable services for all.

However, there is a need to recognise the areas of strength, identify the areas of strengthening and strategise the way forward. This is best done if all the actors of the WASH sector come together to reflect, be on the same page regarding the areas of work and prioritise respective action points for comprehensive system strengthening.

In September 2022, IRC, Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) India and Water For People India initiated conversations on the need to explore ways to enhance the Government of India’s efforts to ensure water and sanitation services to all. The discussions pointed to the need to take the conversation to a wider group, to benefit from their experience and expertise, for the sector to be consistent 1in its communication with the government, and to pursue system strengthening collectively.  In November 2022, thus, the three organisations organised a meeting with the Aga Khan Development Network, Arghyam, Tata Trust, UNICEF, and WaterAid India to brainstorm on the methodology for the joint sector reflection. The meeting concluded with finalisation of the tool, the questions for the reflection, and acknowledgment of the need to have the government as a partner in the process, in order to capitalise on its investments and efforts.

Photo credit: Arpita Chatterjee, Water For People

Odisha was the selected as the first state to pilot such an endeavour. On 11th of May 2023, the partners together with the Government of Odisha organised a joint workshop on "WASH Sector Reflections: a Focus on Odisha". The purpose of the workshop was to collectively (including representatives from the civil society and the government) reflect on the status of the WASH sector in Odisha and the way forward to ensure safe water and sanitation for all.

The workshop ended with the preparation of a report on the findings and recommendations to strengthen the WASH sector in Odisha. The report has been submitted to the Government of Odisha.  Additionally, in September 2023 a dissemination workshop for the findings has been scheduled which is expected to conclude with identification of specific action points for the various participants to ensure sustainable water and sanitation services for all in the state of Odisha.

Photo credit: Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Department, Odisha, India

During the process of the validation with the Government in Odisha, the district officials participating in the process shared some of their feedback on the process. The focus of every process is confined to quantitative analysis of progress against the targets. The review process lacks the insights of qualitative data collection and analysis together with stakeholders. The other feedback was the government monitoring system is limited to service level data and therefore the WASH supply chain remains unexplored viz. the data on service providers or sustainability. The high points in the past few years are the guidelines on roles and responsibilities of service providers have been refined and are providing clarity. The guidelines also provide budgeting guidance for the operation and maintenance of these community WASH services. With revisions Government also recognises the cross-cutting impact of climate change, gender and social inclusion with different pillars of WASH supply chain to ensure sustainability.

Additionally, preparation for a national level WASH sector reflection is currently underway, with a sector workshop planned for August 2023. Watch this space for more information on joint sector reflections in India.

Acknowledgements: Copy-edited by Tettje van Daalen.

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