Community engagement in Piprasi Block, Bihar, India | NRMC
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Individual action combined with the necessary tools and resources can result in large numbers of people changing their lives and gaining the dignity and pride that comes with improved sanitation and hygiene.

To make progress, a crosscutting approach that uses sanitation and hygiene as a ‘docking station’ to achieve not only clean water, but also other SDGs, is necessary.

The greatest mass movements in human history – the right to vote for women, the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, or scientific consensus building around climate change, among others – began when one or more individuals demanded change.

This idea may not have been on the mind last year of former schoolteacher Raghuvar Prasad of Piprasi Block in Bihar, a populous but poor northeast Indian state, but he lived it. Unhappy with the state of sanitation and hygiene in his area, he joined a community mobilization effort that transformed the lives of 40,000 people. The effort enabled them to end open defecation in their block (one of the first to do so in India), access credit and materials, employ marginalized people as masons and bricklayers, and ultimately, build safe and hygienic toilets.

Prasad’s experience shows how individual action combined with the necessary tools and resources can result in large numbers of people changing their lives and gaining the dignity and pride that comes with improved sanitation and hygiene. This experience holds important lessons for those of us working with sanitation and hygiene, as part of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on Water and Sanitation. As other SDG Knowledge Hub guest article authors have noted, the SDGs are interconnected; none may be more so than Target 6.2.

While billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and sanitation services since 2000, many homes, healthcare facilities and schools still lack toilets, as well as soap and water for handwashing. This leads to unacceptably high levels of child mortality, malnutrition and stunting, and a host of other diseases.

The bad news is that 2.3 billion people still lack safe sanitation, while 892 million people must defecate in the open. Life quality dramatically suffers for these people. The good news is that all stakeholders, including the business community, have been challenged to do in the SDG era what they were not challenged to do in the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era: make progress on both water AND sanitation, while also delivering universal access.

It is crucial for all players – the public, private and development sectors – to join hands, as 2030 is just a little over a decade away, the challenges are huge, and one child still dies each minute from preventable diarrhea.

To make progress, a crosscutting approach that uses sanitation and hygiene as a ‘docking station’ to achieve not only clean water, but also other SDGs, is necessary. Support to countries to be free of open defecation will support Health (SDG 3) and Education (SDG 4) gains. A focus on Menstrual Hygiene Management doesn’t just solve one problem but creates a path to women’s empowerment (SDG 5), and reducing inequalities (SDG 10) in general is supported by doing it in sanitation, regardless if that inequality is driven by socio-cultural, economic or service delivery reasons.

Resources and tools are vital ingredients to build collective behaviour change programmes that empower women and men to take control of their sanitation needs. Sometimes, the resources required are much less than we think. In the end, though, it takes leaders like Prasad from Bihar to get involved, to persuade others to join and to lead a veritable movement, and to put the ‘one’ in sanitation and hygiene for everyone by 2030.

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