Ebb and flow

Water, sanitation and hygiene comprise a crucial subset of the salinity ingress programme, especially with regard to women

Ensuring that communities have access to quality drinking water, making menstrual hygiene management a priority while ridding the subject of taboos and myths, and providing water and sanitation solutions in villages and schools — the water, sanitation and hygiene component in the salinity ingress programme has its hands full.

Drinking water is a trickle in coastal Gujarat and the shortage has got worse as groundwater becomes increasingly unsuitable for consumption due to the high TDS (total dissolved solids) in it. Salinity ingress is the villain here. The lack of freshwater bodies in the extended region exacerbates the problem.

The Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC) has endeavoured to provide solutions by connecting villages with government drinking water supply systems. That’s no guarantee for a regular flow of the precious liquid, given the geographical disadvantage that places Saurashtra’s seaside regions at the end of the supply line.

Dual-source water supply systems are the solution here. Communities have been sensitised to strengthen local drinking water sources and, on the other hand, they have been helped in connecting with government water supply schemes.

‘Water budgeting’, which means the economical use of whatever water is available, has been the method CSPC has tried out to ensure that the scarcities of summer are better managed. Water budgeting has become a regular exercise to map demand and supply and explain the mismatch to the community.

Water saving techniques have been introduced to minimise wastage and increase water-use efficiency. Used household water is reused for irrigation, there are water meters at farms and the growing of crops that require less water is promoted. Water testing and reporting have become the norm in many villages, as has chlorination (to deal with impurities) and portable water filters.

CSPC’s concern for children is reflected in its project to create and sustain hygiene and sanitation facilities in 150 government primary schools in Amreli, Bhavnagar, Kutch and Devbhumi Dwarka. More than 30,000 students have been covered under the project, water filters have been installed in the schools and, drinking water and handwash stations have been built or refurbished.

CSPC has found success in running initiatives on drinking water and on sanitation parallelly, not easy in a state where each has a separate government department. “We interacted with both and integrated the initiatives at the village level,” says Divyang Waghela, a director with CSPC.

School kids get educated about water quality in a village in the Kodinar subdivision of Junagadh
School kids get educated about water quality in a village in the Kodinar subdivision of Junagadh

Partnership project

A large public-private partnership venture, the Coastal Area Development Project, has been co-created by CSPC with the Water and Sanitation Management Organisation, a semi-government body, to provide safe and assured drinking water to 428 coastal villages in 10 districts.

Perhaps a more striking success is CSPC’s work in menstrual hygiene. More than 37,000 women and adolescent girls from 240 villages were the target of a concerted campaign to untangle the web of taboos and plain old patriarchal prejudice that surrounds menstruation.

This participative and individual-centric project was conducted with small groups of women and adolescent girls, and village self-help groups were enlisted for support. Included in the mix were regular health checkups, access to menstrual hygiene products, tie-ups with sanitary pad manufacturers, and counselling sessions to sensitise males of the species.

Apoorva Oza, the chairman of CSPC, sounds beyond happy recounting an anecdote that illustrates what the overall effort is achieving in tradition-bound rural settings: “Coastal societies are very conservative and here you have a 15-year-old girl talking to an audience, with her father in it, explaining menstrual hygiene and telling people to get rid of all these stigmas. Seeing her having the guts to do that is in itself a matter of pride.”