first field visit: arashinagunde

thursday morning a car picked us up at 7:30am (ok it was 7:45, but we were aiming for 7:30) to drive us directly in to the heart of bangalore traffic and out the other side, all the way out to the ‘peri-urban areas’ of bangalore rural district.  we landed at 10am (45km later) at the gram panchayat (hereafter GP) office of arashinagunde, population 12,000, in the taluk of neramangala.  to get your hierarchies in order: there are 13 villages in this GP, 22 GPs in this taluk, 4 taluks in this district, and 31 districts in the state. we received a warm reception, complete with floral wreaths, breakfast, tea, and plenty of photos (‘clicks’).

after interviewing GP leaders, taluk officials, and sanitation officers, we piled back in the car for a trip around the block to the local school.  schools have been a key component of the sanitation campaign – not only as goals in themselves (schools must have separate toilets for boys and girls, since studies show that girls are more likely to drop out of school after puberty where they don’t have separate toilet facilities) but also as instruments for building awareness in the community.  students lined up to sing us rhymes and chants about the importance of washing their hands before and after using the toilet.  hopes are that these messages travel from child to household – this is one factor we’ll be looking at in our research.

next was a traditional lunch back at the GP office.  then out to the villages to visit households and try out our hot-off-the-press survey instrument.  in groups of three (two interns and a translator) we knocked on doors to ask folks things like when they got their toilet, whether they use it, why they decided to invest in a toilet, whether they clean it regularly, how they dispose of other waste.  i was amazed at how welcoming people were, how openly they answered some admittedly personal questions. (my white skin and curly blond hair may have been an advantage in this respect).

the answers we got helped us refine the survey instrument and started to give us some insight into why behavior here has changed so quickly.  prior to the sanitation campaign, most people were heading out to the bushes with a jug of water to answer nature’s call.  it’s estimated that in india over 600 million people engage in open defecation.  considering the robust evidence showing the importance of sanitation and hygiene for health indicators like child mortality and maternal mortality (as well as secondary indicators like health care costs, and the impact of absences dues to illness on productivity and education), this issue is a high priority for development in india.

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~ by aliciawolcott on June 15, 2010.

2 Responses to “first field visit: arashinagunde”

  1. Question: How does the plumbing work in these new toilets? Where does the sewage go from there? Is there treatment or cess pools/leaching tanks? How is this system sustainable?

  2. the toilets are (from the top working downwards) a pan – the thing you squat on – that sits on a cement slab. waste goes down the hole through a gooseneck below to provide a water barrier. that feeds into a leach pit (there’s a 1.5 foot ring of sorts immediately below the cement slab i think). the leach pit allows liquid waste to leach out, while solid waste remains in the pit. one household will fill the pit in 5 years. it’s not 100% sustainable, since a new pit will be necessary then (some households actually build two pits side by side so when one is full, they can connect to the other). tt’s also not 100% sanitary, since some bacteria can still travel across the membrane and leak into the water supply. but if the water supply is drawn from an aquifer underground, above which is an impermeable membrane, the water will be safe. bacteria travels mostly horizontally underground, depending on how rocky the soil is, anywhere from 10m to 60m.
    importantly, the system is a step in the right direction, and not an end goal in itself. it’s meant to improve sanitation, encourage hygienic behavior and toilet usage. there are longer-term goals for more sustainable solutions (i.e. septic tanks or underground sewers) once behavior change is mastered.
    p.s. i’m getting a lot of questions on field visits about sanitation in rural areas in new york. my experience working with wolcott builders has definitely proved useful. if you’d like to add any wisdom or share advice with these communities (many of whom are thinking about the future sustainability of the project), it would be readily welcomed i’m sure.

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