By Catherine Chen (’16), Daniel Bruggers (’16), Lindsee Redmond (’16), Mick Pathompakawant (’16), Yusuke Matsuoka (’16)
WaterAid India (WAI), our client for our Applied Management Research field study project, is a nonprofit organization operating since 1986. WAI is recognized as a key player in the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector. It offers three main services beyond overall water safety and hygiene awareness:
- Create greater infrastructure for potable water access;
- Reduce open-air defecation by increasing toilet availability;
- Provide feminine hygiene products to India’s women and girls.
WAI has finalized its strategic plan for the period 2016–2021. The organization is currently interested in customizing its strategic and operational plans to penetrate into Rajasthan state, but a scoping study is needed to review WAI’s entry and engagement there. The goal of our project is to determine the most effective approach for WAI to initiate its presence in Rajasthan and operate within the terms of improving the WASH situation there.
Our team traveled to India in April for the primary research field trip. First, we conducted four interviews with five people from WAI and obtained useful knowledge about their current operations. We also defined the scope of our project as follows:
- Establish what behavior-change activities WAI can offer to improve the WASH condition in Rajasthan;
- Focus recommendations benchmarking WAI’s six priority areas (rural drinking, rural sanitation, WASH in schools, WASH in health and nutrition, urban WASH and disaster resilience and response) that can be reproduced or expanded.
Second, we conducted six interviews with seven government officials in Rajasthan state as well as in the Sawai Madhopur district, where WAI is currently operating. We deepened our understanding of WASH campaigns that each government pursues and that greatly affect potential activities of WAI. In particular, we understood the sanitation scheme by the government that supports toilet construction for poor people.
Third, we went to the villages in Rajasthan state where WAI is directly interacting with the local community and conducted two interviews with 10 people there. We obtained useful insights regarding how local people think about and deal with the WASH problems.
A month after the first trip, our team made another on-site visit in India. We aimed to validate our implementation ideas about sanitation synthesized from our first trip. We also decided we would like to further explore the school WASH and health and nutrition areas. We interviewed almost 100 people from various perspectives, such as WASH experts, organization partners, clients and local community members in Delhi and Rajasthan-Sawai Madhopur.
In Delhi, we visited two slums and two schools to benchmark the situation and identify a case study. Surprisingly, there is only one community toilet for over 400 households. It implies a high need for improvement for WAI.
We observed a huge disparity between men’s and women’s roles in society: Men are less likely than women to be aware of the current WASH situation, but women cannot take a leadership role to advance changes. Schools even have two shifts, one for boys and the other for girls separately. This is one of the big cultural barriers where we’d like to drive change.
We spent one full day working in Rajasthan, which took us five hours to reach by train from Delhi. WAI helped us connect with all stakeholders, such as schools and primary health centers, to gather more information. We found three big gaps in these two areas:
Knowledge gap: Most of the local members do not know their rights and what kind of basic help they can get from the government, so their problems persist. For example, the government offers reimbursement for building private toilets for each local but not everyone knows this. Religious belief usually trumps science; for example, girls are not supposed to shower while menstruating. This is unhygienic and could impair their health.
Behavior gap: Commonly, Indians eat with their hand instead of silverware. Yet students in Rajasthan do not see the necessity of washing hands before a meal, sometimes leading to sicknesses such as diarrhea.
Infrastructure gap: Although schools know that the government requires them to provide sufficient latrines for every student, they do not know that they have to build sufficient washing stations as well. Many schools we visited have one or two washing stations for as many as 400 students. We might see a long line of students waiting to wash their hands, but some of them are not patient enough and decide to skip the hand washing process.
There are many other unidentified gaps in India, especially Rajasthan. Seeing the actual setting gave us much more insight into their primary WASH challenges, which are sanitation, WASH in school and health issues. However, many areas are improving, and we hope WAI can bring India to the next level of WASH conditions through our findings and recommendations.