It’s 5:00 am in a small village in Nadia district of West Bengal. Seventy year old Pramila Mondol blows her whistle as she walks along the sites where people commonly defecated in the open before the district eliminated the practice. Mondal is a member of the 'Para Nazardari’ (Neighbourhood Monitoring) Committee formed to undertake a ‘good morning’ watch to ensure that people don’t slip back into their age-old ways.
The Nadia district administration’s efforts - through an intense behaviour change campaign, leadership of the local government, and strong community monitoring - have had the desired impact. Today Nadia district has been declared the first open defecation free (ODF) district in West Bengal – within 18 months of the launch of the State’s Nirmal Bangla (Clean Bengal) Mission that aims to achieve an ODF State by 2017.
India has significantly ramped up its efforts to improve sanitation. On 2 October, 2014 (Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary) the Prime Minister launched the country’s new and ambitious flagship program Swachh Bharat Mission – Grameen (Clean India Mission – Rural) that seeks to make rural India open defecation free (ODF) by 2019. At present, more than 60 percent of India’s rural people defecate in the open.
There is an urgent need to scale up sanitation in India. The country loses $53.8 billion a year, or a whopping 6.4% of GDP, to premature mortality, healthcare costs, and health-related productivity losses. One in every ten deaths in India is linked to poor sanitation and hygiene (WHO Reports), and nearly 44 million children under five years are stunted (World Bank).
To learn from West Bengal’s successes in tackling this challenge, the World Bank brought a 32-member delegation from the neighboring state of Bihar in June this year. Bihar is home to 2 out of every 10 Indians who defecate in the open. The World Bank is working to improve sanitation in Bihar - along with other states facing similar challenges - under its Rural Water Supply and Sanitation project for Low Income States (RWSS- LIS).
“Seeing is believing,” said Raghava Neti, the World Bank’s team leader for the RWSS-LIS project. “I hope that after this visit, the team from Bihar will come together with renewed zeal to deliver results on sanitation. The Water Global Practice of the Bank will mobilize its strength behind this effort.”
Highlighting the importance of learning from peers, Bhavna Bhatia, Program Coordinator in the World Bank’s Leadership Learning and Innovations (LLI) Vice-Presidency said: “Learning from good practices and peer-to-peer interactions can be inspirational for the states struggling to end open defecation at scale.”
What has West Bengal done differently?