Access to clean water and reliable sanitary facilities is scarce throughout India. Around 600 million Indian people suffer from extreme water shortages. The water that is available is of an alarmingly poor quality: around 70% is contaminated. More than 100,000 Indians die each year as a result of waterborne diseases. The country’s Sustainable Development Goals aim to give all Indian people access to clean drinking water, improved sanitary facilities and better overall hygiene by 2030, but little progress has been made so far. The rural district of Sheohar in Bihar, northern India, is among the regions most severely affected by the insufficient water supply. We spoke to Lauren Alcorn, the Project Director for the Sheohar project, on site:
In fact, things would already improve if the local people were able to wash their hands with soap regularly and correctly.Lauren Alcorn
Lauren, what is the current situation in Sheohar?
The ‘Clean India Mission’ of the national government has achieved some good results over the past years in the state of Bihar. But there are still major difficulties: the quality of water is poor and public awareness of good hygiene practices are low. The public health system seriously struggles with waterborne diseases and infections. Moreover, Sheohar has an extremely high mortality rate for children under the age of five. This could be prevented by improved access to clean water and sanitary facilities. In fact, things would already improve if the local people were able to wash their hands with soap regularly and correctly.
What are the greatest challenges for this project?
Sheohar is a remote region with a lack of services. The groundwater table here is very high, which raises the risk of flooding. The local water and sanitary facilities must be adapted to the conditions. Aside from the high groundwater table and the corresponding risk of floods, the main problem in Sheohar is that the water is contaminated with bacteria and iron.
What exactly does the Sheohar project involve?
The project, which our partnership with METRO made possible, takes a holistic approach both in its planning and implementation. Fostering community and partnerships with regional and state governments is crucial for lasting change. Our work focuses on the One Drop ‘ABC for Sustainability’ model (editor’s note: Access, Behaviour Change, Capital). We improve access to water and sanitary facilities for private households and public institutions such as schools, day care and health centres. At the same time, we collaborate with microfinance institutions that provide financial support, and we teach farmers to manage their income and livelihoods. We also offer training courses for small and medium-sized sanitation companies. To improve public awareness of good hygiene practices, we apply the SABC method (Social Art for Behaviour Change) developed by One Drop, which uses multidisciplinary shows, film screenings, street theatre and interactive stories as teaching media.
What goals were achieved in 2019?
- Over the course of 2019 the project in India reached over 85,000 people
- 14 schools have received water and sanitation facilities - the schools are attended by around 8,784 pupils.
- In 5 schools suitable and functional toilet-blocks with child- and gender-friendly facilities were built.
- 500 compost pits for waste management were built.
- In collaboration with local artists, more than 30 multidisciplinary shows, 160 street theatre plays and 120 film screenings took place, highlighting the importance of sanitation and hygiene measures and reaching 27,300 men, women, boys and girls.
- Since the start of the Sheohar project, some 1,700 loans have been approved for sanitation, enabling 1,700 toilets to be built or rehabilitated in private households.
METRO Water Initiative: More than just a Drop of Hope
METRO is cooperating with the international One Drop Foundation to create access to clean water and sanitation facilities in India. Marie-Claude Bourgie of One Drop talks about project goals and how creativity and the power of art can make a lasting difference to the world. >> Interview
About ... Lauren Alcorn
Lauren Alcorn is a Project Director at One Drop. She oversees projects and partnerships in India, Malawi and Nunavik (northern Canada). Before joining One Drop, Lauren worked for the Canadian United Nations Association and Schools Without Borders. She holds a master’s degree in Development and International Relations from Aalborg University in Denmark and a bachelor’s degree from Dalhousie University. Lauren lives in her home town of Montreal with her family.