Clean water and sanitation are basic requisites for every individual’s survival. A lack of specific knowledge about the causes, effects, and transmission of diseases due to unhygienic conditions often result in incidence of diseases. Sanitation is a cause of concern in both urban and rural centers. Many efforts are being undertaken, especially in villages to advocate for the benefits of basic hygiene and sanitation. In alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 aimed at clean water and sanitation with no one left behind in terms of access to safe water and sanitation, Sehgal Foundation works closely with rural communities to promote access to clean drinking water. The multi-pronged approach works on both the demand and supply side of water management.
This vision translates into practice under the project Adarsh Panchayat Bhandari, which aims at providing sustainable and inclusive all-round village development in Sitamarhi district, Bihar. Though Sitamarhi was the first open-defecation-free district of Bihar, integrating other interventions for all round cleanliness and promoting good health pave the way for more improvements. The goal of the initiative is to create awareness of the practice of good hygiene and sanitation and how its absence can lead to adverse effects. Strong emphasis is placed on community participation and how villagers can drive change themselves. Community meetings were held to disseminate information on how to promote safe hygiene practices to create a sustained behavior change and improve the quality of life. The meetings provided an enabling environment for people to talk together about the negative practices and consequences related to sanitation and discuss the solutions available. For safe health and the prevention of diseases, the surrounding environment has to be hygienic.
In addition to meetings to build awareness, sanitation drives were conducted to sensitize the community, build engagement, and motivate them to adopt healthy practices. Disposal of wastewater from households was a key concern area, mostly because of the lack of a proper drainage system, thus allowing wastewater to accumulate or discharge into nearby fields or roads, creating a puddle of water. Open pits dug by villagers also allowed the water to accumulate, which worsened during the rainy season with waterlogging, inviting a variety of waterborne diseases and being a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Children play openly in the puddles, which makes them sick. The community and household-level meetings helped sensitize and mobilize the community about the risks associated with improper wastewater management.
As a sustainable solution, soak pits were introduced and implemented. These had been implemented in other project areas in Haryana and were found effective. The structures are simple and can be built with locally available materials with little assistance.
Ranju Devi from Mechi village was a community member who attended the meetings. After having a complete understanding about the soak pit, she decided to construct one at home. For the past eleven years, a pit beside her hand pump had overflowed with sewage water. The pit had been constructed to collect water from the hand pump but it filled up and had remained stagnant ever since.
Now with a soak pit constructed at her premises, Ranju Devi says she is relieved that she has been able to get rid of the dirty water. She added that she now realized that the water from the pump used to be yellow in color and smelly because water was seeping from the pit to the tube well. Her new soak pit is 5 feet deep with a diameter of 4 feet. It is connected to a slit chamber which is one foot by one foot. The silt chamber helps to sort and block other solid waste so that only water goes down the pit. The silt chamber also controls the water force so that water runs smoothly into the soak pit.
“We faced a lot of problems from the accumulation of wastewater. Besides the odor and unhygienic conditions, wastewater flowed to the nearby field, and we were ridiculed by our neighbors, but we were helpless. The soak pit helps dispose of the wastewater generated and has cleared the space beside our house, which would otherwise have brimmed with sewage. Now with the area cleared, we have constructed a toilet,” says Chandrakala Devi, another beneficiary, Bhandari village, Sitamarhi.
The size of the pits varies according to the amount of wastewater generated and the quality of the soil. The soak pits work with a simple process of filtration that helps in treating the wastewater and in recharging the groundwater. The pits are best suited for rural areas and do not require a large area. Their cost-effectiveness makes them sustainable. Although a good-sized soak pit lasts three to five years without maintenance, care should be taken to ensure that the effluent is kept cleared to prevent excess buildup of solids, as they would eventually clog the pit and make it nonfunctional. When the soak pit performance deteriorates, the material inside the soak pit can be excavated and refilled.
(Upasana Upadhyaya works with Sehgal Foundation as an Ideosync UNESCO Information Fellow.)