A bit of motivation and awareness transforms a dirty Jharkhand village into a clean place, under the Community-Led Total Sanitation approach

The other day I was at a small tribal village with about 30 households in the interiors of Jharkhand State. We were being shown an approach called the Community-Led Total Sanitation approach, CLTS for short. Pioneered by Kamal Kar, this approach is radical in that it believes that at the heart of the practice of good sanitation lies not technology or finance but the community. By ‘triggering’ a community’s awareness of the impact of bad sanitation it induces behaviour change within.

The process of awareness building is through a series of steps which includes the impact of open defecation, the pooling of water and the consequent breeding of malaria-causing mosquitoes, the dirt present on the hands if you don’t wash it and so on. Once the community is aware it finds its own solution to the problem. What was striking was the complete knowledge the people had developed on the impact of bad water and sanitation in their village. Each household had built a rudimentary ‘no cost’ toilet on its own. A simple hole-in-the-ground with a cover protected for privacy with bamboo sticks and cloth. These were built from locally available materials.

The hand-pumps had good soak pits and drains to take away pooled water. There was no garbage lying around. Hand-washing with ash after defecation and before eating was something even the children had learnt. The transformation was almost immediate and the people noticed the difference in health within weeks.

The incidence of diarrhoea and malaria has dramatically come down. Children are healthier and can go to school without missing class. Most importantly people have realised that the solutions are in their own hands and not with the government or an external NGO. An empowered community is the result with sanitation and water as just an entry point for conversation.

Behaviour change

This approach of behaviour change will generally not result in the usual malaise of toilets built and not being used or subsidies being misused. Clearly CLTS proves that money is not the issue but awareness and empowerment.

The skill required for transformation is not that of an engineer or a doctor but that of a community worker and motivator, an entirely different perspective altogether to address the problem of open defecation in the country. In urban areas too we have a situation with littering and solid waste management. Landfills are filling up, causing pollution and making villagers on the outskirts suffer. It is clear that this requires behaviour change and institutional ‘re-architecting’ on a grand scale. Every individual has to segregate waste into various streams and the collection chain has to convert this into value. This is not an engineering skill but that of motivation.

Society cannot afford even a single person not cooperating. The mosquito in a stagnant pool does not discriminate between those who behaved well and those who did not. It does not discriminate too between the rich and the poor. As we move towards people’s participation in solutions on the grand scale of the city, be it for water, sanitation, driving, solid waste or greening a city, a profound change in our approach as envisaged by Dr. Kamal Kar with his Community-Led Behaviour Change approach seems the way forward. The city must learn from the village.

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