Rapid urbanisation in Visakhapatnam led to almost half the population living in slums. This caused the problems of water scarcity, sewage disposal and open defecation. While the state government did work on laying sewer lines and treatment and reuse of wastewater but the benefits failed to reach poor neighbourhoods.
But the launch of Prime Minister Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission in 2014, and the Smart Cities Mission later on, changed things. It marked a turning point, which spurred the city to commit to becoming open-defecation free and providing disposal services to those not connected to sewers.
These are the findings of a new study done by NGO WaterAid. The study A tale of clean cities: insights for planning urban sanitation from Ghana, India and The Philippines, shows how Visakhapatnam (Vizag) is tackling the ever-growing urban sanitation challenge posed by rapid urbanisation, and has successfully used Swachh Bharat to lead its way in getting access to toilets for everyone.
Strong leadership is the key to success, says the report. While rapid urbanisation poses huge challenges, the pressure it causes can actually be positive, driving demand for development. Efforts were also driven by financing opportunities, such as commercial competitiveness or tourism, and even by crises, such as outbreaks of disease.
Findings also showed uneven progress along different parts of the sanitation chain, such as access to toilets, emptying septic tanks, and treating the faecal waste. Inadequate financing and a lack of coordination between municipal departments are frequent obstacles. Furthermore, the urban poor and those who live in challenging areas are being left behind.
“Over 770 million people in India lack access to decent sanitation, having a huge impact on health, with 140,000 children dying each year from diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation,” says V K Madhavan, Chief Executive for WaterAid, India.
“The Swachh Bharat Mission, has the highest political commitment driving it, and can make a very positive impact in areas where the foundations are in place. There is a willingness to address the core issues of access to water, sanitation and sustainable management of waste – particularly for those with low-incomes and the marginalised. A significant beginning has been made and the campaign needs to be matched with effective local institutions of self-governance, finances and a focus on those who need these services the most,” he adds.
“Fifty-four per cent of the world’s population now lives in cities, putting major strains on city planners to extend drinking water and sanitation services to all. Visakhapatnam is a shining example of how cities can ride on the wave of Swachh Bharat and overcome these immense challenges,” says Andrés Hueso, Senior Policy Analyst for sanitation at WaterAid.
“Our research shows there is no one size fits all when it comes to ensuring sustainable sanitation services in urban areas. However, the ingredients to success include strong leadership, with key drivers being national political influence, economic motives, and the pressure posed by rapid urbanisation. City sanitation planning is important, but is not a silver bullet. Planning must be adapted to the specific context and phase of sanitation development, and be linked to financing opportunities to avoid it being treated as a tick box exercise,” he adds. “One worrying shortfall identified though is that the needs of the urban poor are rarely a top priority with the municipalities,” he remarks.