World Water Day: Solving water issues key to achieving ODF status

Here’s an example of a village in Nagaland that journeyed from being one of the most backward districts in India to being open defecation free

By Jim Kasom
Published: Friday 22 March 2019
Water management
In Mon village, where water is the new luxury, a girl fills up vessels. In Mon village, where water is the new luxury, a girl fills up vessels.

The hills are lush. Ladder-like stone-cobbled steps lead towards the centre of Tanhai village at a hilltop. The sky is clear. It’s early October, the beginning of a dry season in Mon district in Nagaland. The view of lush-rolling hills and blue sky is majestic. But for the people here, life is far from easy.

Mon district receives continuous spell of rain from May to September. It is one of the wettest places in India. Water sources are abundant here, but water crisis has loomed large for years because of the absence of water tapping facilities.

In the rainy season, residents of Tanhai village, like many others in the district, are dependent on rainwater but during a dry spell in winter and early spring, they have had to climb steep slopes to fetch water from springs and ponds downhill. 

“We used to fetch water from streams and ponds 2 kilometres from the village and it was a difficult life. We would go and bathe and wash in the stream and bring just enough water for cooking and drinking,” said Nyanpong, chairman of Tanhai village.

The concept of private bathroom was absent because of the hard-living conditions. In 2006, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj named Mon one of the country's most backward districts out of a total of 640. It is one of the three districts in Nagaland currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF).

Before 2013, the village had no water pipeline. Children would miss school because most of their time was spent on travelling through difficult terrains to fetch water from the forest, located far from home. Since water and sanitation are mutually dependent, lack of water supply in the village led to no toilets inside households. Consequently, most villagers practiced open defecation, and few used traditional sanitation techniques such as: open pit covered with leaves and walled with leaves or plastics.

“Pucca toilet was almost impossible to imagine because we didn’t have water and also most residents are poor,” said Nyangpong, also one of the youth leaders.

As these toilets were shared among around three families, water borne diseases like diarrhoea and jaundice became a common occurrence. According to the state survey (2016) under Individual Household Latrines (IHHL), Nagaland was positioned at 16 — ranked lowest among north-eastern states after Assam. Of 11 districts in the state, Mon came in as the least clean district in the same survey.  

A few years ago, things changed for good, with support from World Vision India, a non-profit working for children, 127 toilets were constructed and pipelines installed to bring water from a reservoir and distribute it to six water tanks and made available to all households. The villagers were also taken through the importance of conserving water, sanitation and hygiene practices.

Young girls like six-year-old Anglong are the main beneficiaries of this intervention. She doesn’t have to fetch water or even go to the forest to defecate anymore. Now Tanhai has become open-defecation free (ODF).

Poverty was another key challenge towards achieving ODF status. Though each household received a plastic toilet seat, 10-feet-long pipe and two six-feet-long CI sheets under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), it was not enough for many villagers to build their own toilet as they would have to bare most of the expenses. “We are farmers and worry about other basic needs. Toilet has always been a luxury for us,” states Nyangpong.

It was when World Vision India provided them with bricks, cement and even skilled labour charges that the beneficiaries only had to dig the pit and provide wood for the doors and some stone chips to build the toilet.

Elizabeth, a mother of three and a self-help group leader, remembers the time they had to bathe and draw water from a stream around 1 km from her house. “We had a basic toilet. Just simple pit with plastic cover. The smell was unbearable, but we became used to it. There was no water or even the awareness about hygiene,” she explains.

The non-profit is working in 21 villages, roughly covering 45,000 beneficiaries in Mon district, Nagaland. Since 2016, around 314 units of toilet have been built and another 136 units will be built in 2019.

Water is life but in these villages of Mon water is a new luxury that could unlock doors to achieve ODF status and at the same time leave no one behind.

(The author is a communication associate in World Vision India)

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