Alleviating Biridihi’s water and sanitation crisis via community participationStory
By Chandrika Patnaik
11 March 2023
From monetary support to labour contribution, Biridihi’s residents come together to build an overhead water tank.
The overhead water tank on top of the hill.
Photograph by Prasanta Kumar Naik
Biridihi is a village in Ranipada Gram Panchayat coming under the Khandapada Block of Nayagarh district. The residents of Biridhi depend on agriculture to earn a livelihood.
Water scarcity and open defecation severely impacted the people of Biridihi in the past. The absence of toilets in households, age-old practices, and a need for more understanding of its adverse effects marred any improvement back then. The situation always worsened in the rainy seasons when it became difficult to go out and defecate in the open. Residents used to walk at least half a kilometre daily to defecate in the open.
“Villagers prefer defecating in open fields. The alarming thing is that people here do not acknowledge open defecation as a problem. Moreover, they feel having individual toilets at home is unhygienic, and defecating in the open is fine. As a result, women suffer the most from serious health issues as they hold onto themselves up till daybreak to go out to relieve,” said Shanti Pradhan, 45, Secretary of Maa Gayatri SHG in Biridihi.
With residents opposing the construction of individual toilets and bathing rooms in their homes, the Biridihi village committee had to intervene and decided to call for a meeting of all the village residents. They explained that access to improved sanitation, like clean water, toilets, and good hygiene, could help prevent the spread of diseases and keep children and adults safe and healthy.
The committee members cited the example of Tulasipur village of Muthagadia Panchayat in the Nayagarh block about 25 kilometres away, which did not have a single case of its residents defecating in the open due to toilets and access to water in their homes. Tulasipur’s village committee had taken the initiative to punish any resident who defecated in the open. The action ensured that the residents regularly cleaned their village, the overhead water tank supplying water to all the households, their toilets and bathing rooms and maintained and repaired the piped water system.
The Biridihi village committee hoping to bring about a positive change continued mobilising people through three more meetings to ensure 100% agreement among the residents for the new water and sanitation system. Once the villagers agreed and decided to have a sanitation system, there was no looking back. Gram Vikas supported the construction of individual toilets and bathing rooms for every household. The initiative worked on improving the hygiene practices of the individuals and making the village open-defecation-free. However, the water supply continued to plague the village.
The Panchayat supplied water twice daily in wash stands at various places in the village. But because of Biridhi’s higher elevation, the water did not flow naturally into the village. Moreover, the low water pressure flowing downstream exacerbated the water supply issue. There were seven tube wells in the village, but some did not have enough water, while in others, dust contaminated the water.
To overcome the low water pressure issue, the residents decided to locate the overhead water tank and a pump house suitably. After some deliberation, the villagers finally agreed to construct the overhead water tank atop the hill and selected a site for the pump house downhill.
Jogeshwar Panda, 52, President of the village’s Jala O Parimala Committee, said, “We faced another problem after selecting the location for the overhead tank on the hilltop. The hill was full of stones, boulders, and thorny bushes. The immediate start of the construction became difficult, even though the entire community wanted it to happen.”
After a brief discussion, the Grama O Jala Parimala Committee and the Village Development Committee (VDC) members agreed to clean the site with the help of a JCB machine. But another problem arose once they cleared the area of boulders and bushes. The residents realised the slippery hilltop would make carrying the materials for constructing the water tank difficult. Therefore the construction of the tank got delayed again. To solve the problem, the villagers put sandbags along the path to carry material to the site. But that was not a permanent solution. “Finally, all the residents agreed and decided to contribute and build steps instead to reach the hilltop,” says Jogeswar.
The women in the village took up the responsibility of carrying out awareness programmes and mobilised households to contribute and build the steps. Men provided their labour to make the steps. Shanti Pradhan says, “Women held awareness programmes for the water tank and the need for building the steps through door-to-door mobilisation, street plays, and health and hygiene sessions for school children and adolescent girls.”
In 2021, the village community completed the construction of 25 steps with a contribution of ₹300 from each household. It costs them a total of ₹45,000. With the support of everyone in the village, Biridihi got an overhead water tank in March 2022.
HDFC Bank Parivartan and Gram Vikas have partnered with 17 villages of Nayagarh, Khandapada, Nuagaon and Odogaon Blocks of Nayagarh district since 2017. The programme aims to bring about dignified and healthy living among rural communities and strengthen community self-governance.
The under constructed water tank in Biridihi village.
Photograph by Prasanta Kumar Naik
Prasanta Kumar Naik, a Thematic Coordinator in Planning Monitoring Documentation and Communication, helped with data collection for the story. Mark Lancy Sebastian edited the story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chandrika Patnaik leads content production within the Communications team in Gram Vikas.
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