Rural Water and Sanitation

Swachh Bharat Mission: Sustaining ODF a multi-faceted process

Bangladesh took 15 years to become ODF, while Thailand took 40

By Raghav Neti
Published: Monday 30 September 2019
Toilets in Balangir, Odisha. Photo: Priya Ranjan Sahu

October 2, 2019 marks five years since India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, the country’s largest-ever drive to make India open-defecation free (ODF) and improve sanitation. This was the first time that the country has placed sanitation squarely on the national agenda, and set ambitious goals for Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.

India has much to celebrate. Ever since the Mission started, the country has reduced open defecation at an unprecedented speed and scale.

More importantly, the achievements go far beyond just numbers. Many rural communities have strongly engaged with the sanitation agenda and, in a number of instances, women have been in the forefront.

Making this progress permanent is now the key. Global experience tells us that sustaining the ODF status is a multi-faceted, medium to long-term process. Often, countries that have achieved ODF status tend to fall behind, and some take decades to achieve sustainability. Bangladesh, for instance, took 15 years to become ODF, while Thailand — where the campaign was personally led by the late King — took 40 years to do so.

Acknowledging the ongoing nature of the challenge, the government has announced ODF Plus to ensure sustainability. To make the progress permanent and to achieve a more holistic impact on sanitation, efforts are on to educate rural communities on the management of organic waste, plastic waste, water conservation, etc. 

The World Bank is supporting Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G) through a loan of $1.5 billion. This support incentivises states to achieve and sustain the ODF status and improve cleanliness in villages through solid and liquid waste management. Our efforts focus on behavioural change on the ground, ensuring environmentally sustainable outcomes and building capacity of institutions for effective implementation. Going forward, we stand ready to build on the results of SBM-G, and work with partners across the world to ensure that safe sanitation becomes a reality for all.

The author is the task team leader, Swachh Bharat Mission Support Operation, World Bank

This is part of Down to Earth's print edition dated 1-15 October, 2019

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