25-31 October 2013 #678

People-centric toilets

Kamal Kar pioneered the concept of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) in India under which all members in a community take charge of their sanitation needs. Kar was in Kathmandu this week to attend the Fifth South Asian Ministerial Conference on Sanitation, where he spoke to Ashutosh Tiwari. Excerpts:

Ashutosh Tiwari: How does CLTS differ from other approaches to sanitation?

Kamal Kar: Other approaches push the toilet as the solution for sanitation problems. They can thus become toilet-centric. CLTS says it’s the people who are and have the solution to their sanitation needs. CLTS is thus peoplecentric. Other approaches are led by external institutions such as government departments,donors, and development agencies and they impose their own way of working. CLTS is led and participated by community members themselves. All that an external agency does for CLTS is trigger the people’s interest in not having shit anywhere in an open space in their community. It does so by changing the collective attitude toward hygiene. It was CLTS that gave the birth to the phrase ‘open defecation free’ and this practice of declaring one’s community ODF has become widespread.

What are the remaining challenges for scaling up CLTS?

There are three challenges. The first is at the community level. When there is no timetaken to help trigger people’s attitudes towardopen defecation for reasons of hygiene, CLTS’approach does not do well. The second challenge concerns a lack of an enabling environment. Isolated examples of successare not enough when there are no clear national sanitation policies that prescribe clear governance and operational mechanisms, asNepal’s Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan of2011 has done. The third challenge concerns donors and government departments. They fund sanitation differently. Some provide subsidies for toilets, some count only the number of toilets and users acquired through their funds, and some think that the deliveryof toilets is enough. Some even imposeoperational conditionalities. These are allmeans of control. Missing is an understanding that it’s the people’s attitudes toward sanitation that need to be changed first. If that’s not changed, supplying and counting toilets willnot help.

Why are you against subsidy for sanitation?

CLTS is not about acquiring a toilet. On itsown, a community may not immediatelyfeel the need for toilets. Once the interest in having a toilet for everybody is triggered, that interest becomes a communal one and results in social solidarity. This solidarity gets the momentum for sanitation going. Everyone inthe community, no matter what their positionis, gets involved. Subsidies brought from the outside tend to divide up people into groups, harm social solidarity, and create their own distortions. I am aware that not every poor family can afford to build its own toilet. Let the local people decide what they want to do to do help the poorest not defecate openly.Their decisions are likely to be more workablethan an agency’s unilateral decision to providesubsidy because it wants to meet some criteria to help the poor.

In Nepal, we’ve seen cases where families without toilets are denied services by their VDCs, students with toilets are given extra marks in exams. Has the enthusiasm for total sanitation gone a bit too far?

Hearing about these practices makes me sad. With folded hands, I request that these practices be stopped immediately. These are not CLTS practices. Community members don’t beat one another up for sanitation or reward one another with additional marks on school exams. These are compromises made at the expense of the community members.

You’ve tried to extend CLTS approaches to urban settings and post-emergency relief situations. How have these experiences worked out?

In the town of Kalyani in Kolkata, we worked with the municipal authorities to trigger slum dwellers’ interest in total sanitation. Though it was slow going, the pilot program has been a success and 52 slums around the town adopted CLTS principles to eliminate open defecation practices. Unlike in rural areas, in urban settings, the poor are mobile, invisible, and on the fringes. Only a central authority such as the mayor’s office or other such institutions can resolve issues of land tenure, land ownership, and tenancy rights. In post-emergency relief situations, everything depends on the context, whether there’s been an earthquake, a flood or a civil war. However, if there are people living semi-permanently in camps as internally displaced people, a sense of social solidarity can be ignited to put them in charge of their total sanitation needs.

See also:

Oh, shit

Holding up half the district

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