MANTRA - Transforming Rural Livelihoods One Tap and Toilet at a Time

The Problem

Sanitation and hygiene is one of the most neglected issues plaguing most parts of South Asia and Africa. In rural Orissa (an eastern state of India) where the NGO Gram Vikas is based, 80 percent of the population has no access to clean water, 85 percent has no access to sanitation, and 99 percent has no access to a piped water supply. Symptomatic of broader developmental challenges, this lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities ensures rural communities remain more prone to waterborne diseases and as a result demoralized and unable to defeat the cycle of poverty. To compound matters further, the prevailing social structure in many villages does not enable all community members to accessclean water even where available. As such, sanitation and hygeine are intrinsically linked to broader questions of community empowerment, gender equity and social justice.

The Idea 

Project MANTRA (Movement and Action Network for Transformationof Rural Lives) aims to improve the quality of life of rural communities by adopting an innovative and inclusive approach developed on the basis of Joe Madiath’s nearly 30 years experience in rural development with Gram Vikas. Total village buy-in is required in advance, with a collective community role in planning, implementing and monitoring the water and sanitation program enabling blanket coverage. The outcome is a quality toilet and washroom for each family along with piped running water round the clock. The involvement of the community right from the start ensures ownership, as well as both a financial and physical contribution to the outcome. Families contribute 60 percent towards the cost of sanitation and washroom blocks in the form of local materials for construction, with external support meeting the remainder.

Along with sanitation, the community also works on developinga water source and building an overhead water tower to store water and supply individual homes through pipelines. Funds are mobilized from local government to establish the water supply systems. Operations and maintenance are the sole responsibility of the community, which levies water chargeson a monthly basis to meet these costs.Emphasis on hygiene behaviour also forms an important component,with defaulters penalized by a village committee for defecating in the open and child squads carrying out frequent checks to see whether toilets are maintained and cleaned.

Potential Impact

The MANTRA model has already reached 988 villages in Orissa. A typical program cycle lasts 3-5 years, after which Gram Vikas withdraws from the village in question. Because the subsequent operation and maintenance of the sanitation and waterfacilities are the sole responsibility of the community, the project is socially, financially and environmentally sustainable. Communities also build up an endowment fund of an averagecontribution of $20 per household, the interest of which is used to extend sanitation and water facilities to new households in the village over time. Even in remote, hilly, un-electrified areas, innovative solutions for water supply using ‘gravity fed’ and ‘induced gravity’ techniqueshave helped overcome barriers due to the unavailability of electricity. Clean drinking water and access to sanitation has resulted in an over 80 percent reduction in the incidence of waterborne diseases.

Social Value

Prevailing village social structures traditionally restrict the use of clean water exclusively to the most powerful members in the community. In order to ensure that there is universal access, Gram Vikas’s MANTRA program challenges the established social order, mandating that all households are included and all female heads of household are also involved in the decision-making process. The concept of 100 percent inclusion keeps villages clean and eliminates sources of water contamination. It is also the first step in the process of breaking down caste and gender barriers in a community. Furthermore, at a broader level it gives otherwisemarginalized people a chance to boost their self esteem and think of themselves on the same level as any other person within the community in which they live.

Similarly, by mobilizing, educating and training communities on how to construct, manage and maintain their own sanitation facilities, the MANTRA program awakens the community’s inherent ability to independently sustain their own sanitation network through cooperative contribution and management systems, such as financial training, construction skill building, and hygiene education workshops. This empowering dynamic also lays the ground for future indigenous development initiatives.


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