Making “Citywide” Manageable: A Ward-by-Ward Approach to Eliminating Open Defecation in Visakhapatnam, India

Swachh Bharat: defining the mission

In the context of the global push for universal sanitation by 2030, the Swachh Bharat (“Clean India”) Mission – launched in 2014, for completion by 2019 – stands out for its ambitious timeline. As the mission to provide sanitation across the nation gathers pace, municipalities across India are responding to the same challenge: how to attain universal sanitation and Open Defecation Free (ODF) status for their city?

In a new publication, “A ward-by-ward approach to eliminating open defecation”, we set out how Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) approached the challenge in Visakhapatnam (Vizag) – a city of over two million people and the second largest city of Andhra Pradesh.

The significance of a ward-by-ward approach

Achieving citywide sanitation coverage is a daunting task in a city with millions of people, with little if any experience of pro-poor sanitation services provision, and a demanding timeline to adhere to. Where do you begin? A key insight from Vizag is that rapid progress can be made by using pre-existing community structures to break down the concept of “citywide” into coordinated, sequenced and localised pockets of activity. Rather than tackling the city as one unit, the programme in Vizag began by disaggregating citywide data, shifting the implementation process from the city to the ward level. Here are the key steps that we followed, which led to the GVMC achieving ODF status for Vizag in December 2016:

Sanitation mapping

Baseline patterns of open defecation (OD) in the city were mapped, including the identification of OD ‘hot spots’ to be targeted. The primary survey revealed a final figure of 193 spots used by over 18,500 people from over 4,000 households. Information was also gathered on the prevalence, location and functionality of public and communal toilets in Vizag: over 20,000 people were found to use the 262 such toilet blocks in the city, of which only six were found to be in good condition.

Beginning with the low-hanging fruit

Based on the above mapping process supplemented by census data, OD levels were established for every ward. Wards with low levels of OD were targeted first, setting an example for other wards by demonstrating that ODF status is attainable, and helping to build momentum as the focus moved to areas of the city with progressively higher levels. These latter wards would require more time for implementation, reflected in the staggered implementation timeline for the city: one month was allocated to achieve ODF status for 20 of the initial wards and two months for the next group of 28 wards.

Formation of ward-level coordination committees

Ward-level implementation required the creation of a coordination mechanism: to achieve this, the GVMC issued a circular requiring the formation of an ODF Coordination Committee (ODF CC) in every ward. Each committee is convened by the Sanitary Inspector and has 16 members representing community stakeholders. Women Self Help Groups (pre-existing community groups) and Sadhimpu (committees consisting of elderly women, whose standing in the community positions them to influence behaviour) played a critical mobilisation role in discouraging open defecation and promoting toilet uptake. These actors were supplied with training and materials to implement and sustain the intervention, including a ward-level ODF plan and micro-planning workbook.

Toilet delivery analysis

At the core of SBM is the requirement that all households with space to construct a toilet must do so. Sanitation mapping identified over 20,000 households in Vizag without access to a toilet (as of January 2017, over half these households had a new toilet installed). The procedure for providing household toilets is set out in guidelines from the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) and was implemented as part of the ward-by-ward approach with the involvement of ODF CCs and under the supervision of the City Sanitation Unit (CSU). Under the Swachh Andhra Mission a total of INR 15,000 is allocated to participating households to cover the costs of toilet construction; there are no formal guidelines on the time it should take to construct toilets, with the average time taken in Vizag around 140 days. A mobile-app (to download, search “Sanitation Accelerator” in Google Play) was developed under the programme to help municipal officials self-assess implementation progress.

Where there is simply not enough land to construct a toilet, SBM guidelines require that occupants of those households have access to a community toilet within a walking distance of 500 metres; in addition, all commercial areas must have public toilets within a distance of one kilometre. Recognising the critical role of these facilities to sustaining programme outcomes, the work in Vizag includes a comprehensive, gender-sensitive retro-fitting programme for the city’s 256 community or public toilets.

Open defecation hot spot surveillance

Following the onset of ward-level activities, OD hot spots were monitored regularly by a surveillance squad: a loud speaker and horn were triggered by the squad member every time they spotted a person defecating in the open. The visibility of the surveillance squad simultaneously raised the profile of the ODF campaign in the wards and, together with Sadhimpu, aimed to shame those practicing OD into changing their behaviour.

Next steps: citywide coordination of the septage management market

Achieving citywide ODF status is an immense undertaking, and we believe that the ward-by-ward approach used by GVMC (with support from WSUP Advisory, which was funded by USAID) could potentially be replicated in cities across India.

Achieving ODF status is just the first step, though: sustainable citywide sanitation requires reforms that cover the full length of the sanitation chain, including safe treatment and reuse. Having achieved ODF status, the focus in Vizag is now on improving management of human waste, as well as maintaining new facilities and improving hygiene practices to ensure that the progress made to date is sustainable.

By  Sam Drabble, Research & Evaluation Manager, WSUP