Interview: Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene

MUMBAI: V.Ganapathy is former Special Correspondent for The Hindu newspaper and now an Advisor to the Friend In Need Trust. We wanted to know why he attended the Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene, why these issues are important for India and other developing countries, and what he thought were the highlights of the conference. Read on below for his impressions and insights.

1) What were you personally involved in ?
As a journalist I was keenly interested in sustainable sanitation practices to keep the environment clean and healthy. The problems created by accumulation of bio-degradable and non bio-degradable waste are mounting everyday due to changes in lifestyle and increased consumerism. I was associated with SWM for over a decade and one of its main concerns was disposal of napkins. Hence I am now involved in safe and hygienic disposal of sanitary napkins in my capacity of an Executive Committee Member of the Menstrual Hygiene Management consortium of Tamil Nadu.

2) Why is this work important in India and elsewhere?
Several studies conducted in India have revealed that MHM (Menstrual Hygiene Management) related diseases were high and often it resulted in a high rate of dropouts of girl students in schools during their adolescent period. The Government of India and the Government of Tamil Nadu have recently launched programs for free supply of Sanitary napkins to lakhs of students in schools to promote MHM. Without proper hygienic and environmentally friendly disposal of Sanitary napkins this program would have disastrous impact on health and hygiene. At present only about 30% of the women in India use sanitary napkins and they are concentrated mostly in urban areas. The Government program is focussing on free sanitary napkins in rural areas. Hence I thought that in rural areas people should be also made aware of safe and hygienic disposal of sanitary napkins to prevent any disastrous impact on the environment when the program is fully implemented.

3) What in your opinion were the highlights of the conference?
It is unacceptable that 2.6 billion people in the world are without toilets and are unable to fulfil their daily needs with safety, convenience and dignity. Recent analysis of programs towards the Millennium Development Goals has revealed that the world will miss the sanitation MDG target by more than 500 million people primarily in Africa, Southern Asia and Eastern Asia. The WSSCC(The Water Supply Sanitation Collaborative Council) organized the conference for sharing, learning, strategizing and accelerating the 21st century’s sanitation and hygiene issues. The conference helped the participants in understanding the need for location specific regional approach for changing the mindset of the people who were not having toilets to demand toilets. Though funding is not a major problem globally for the Sanitation sector in reality it was found that enough money was not available for taking all out efforts and suitable IEC(Information,Education & Communication) programs to shift sanitation from a target oriented supply driven program to a demand driven program. The need for a variety of models of toilets to suit different countries and communities as per their traditions and cultural practices was better understood. The experiences shared will result in a change in the focus to make world an open defecation free world.
For the first time MHM was given a high priority sector in the programs for improving sanitation and also ensure that women who constitute 50% of the global population could lead a dignified and healthy life by better MHM practices.


Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene: Day Two Snapshot

MUMBAI: The second day of the Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene witnessed some compelling themes on behavioural change for sustainable sanitation practices, active initiatives for a pro-poor change in the sanitation and hygiene domain and also about the driving force of leaders in this spectrum. Speakers such as David Kuria (co-founder of Eco Tact, Kenya; presentation on Global Challenges, Local Innovations) and participants alike invoked the need for identification and promotion of social entrepreneurs, for inclusive development in addressing the issues of urban sanitation.

A plenary discussion on the science of behaviour change and social transformation programmes through contemporary case studies (Balbir Pasha-HIV/AIDS) signalled a new dimension of striking social media campaigns in urban sanitation strategies.

I was also drawn to the photo exhibition by the Visual Anthropologist, O. P. Singh on the ‘Urban Right to Water and Sanitation’, which highlighted the urgent need for safe sanitation ‘hardwares and softwares’ in Delhi. He was of the opinion that debates about Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and presentation on behavioural change, marking the key programmes of the second day of the forum, presented sanitation issues in an episodic manner and did not clearly bring out the sundry strata of beneficiaries where each of these issues and associated solutions can be applied.

Lastly, safe sanitation and water go hand in hand, yet the issue of accessibility to water and water management found little prominence today. This should be an essential discussion for later in the conference.

Praveen Kumar, research associate of Professor Shyama Ramani

Changing Behaviour for Safe Sanitation Practices: The Role of the Private Sector

MUMBAI: The exploration of private sector partnerships is clearly important in the drive for behavioural change in safe sanitation and hygiene practices. In this regard, the Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene gave a positive impetus through case studies of sanitary napkins and soaps.

Particularly insightful was the Lifebuoy Behaviour Change Journey, a private sector partnership which contributes to tacit behaviour change around core sanitation practices (washing hands, use of soaps for washing hands, and washing hands at important occasions).

Anila Gopalakrishnan, the Lifebuoy Social Mission Manager for UniLever India gave a presentation on ‘Key features on large scale behaviour change programme’ and provided the ‘Big Idea-School of 5 campaigns’. Anila stressed the need to influence children at school, during their formative years, to inculcate sanitation practices as a habit. “Pervading sustainable, robust and safe sustainable practices among children is easier and shows permanence of the same,” remarked Anila.

The Lifebuoy social mission aims to contribute to behavioural transformation of 1 billion people by promoting the use of soap in their handwashing practices.

Praveen Kumar, research associate of Professor Shyama Ramani