Of the diseases affecting the lives of rural people in India, more than 80% of them are preventable, waterborne illnesses. Diarrhoea is the second-largest killer of children under five-years-old in the country.
Gram Vikas works in rural Orissa, where fewer than 20% of households have access to safe sanitation and fewer than 5% have access to piped water. When this is coupled with caste-based exclusionary practices, poor people become even further marginalised and vulnerable.
The Gram Vikas model uses water and sanitation as an 'entry-point intervention' in some of India's most disadvantaged communities.
In order to change unsafe defecation behaviour and provide access to clean water, Gram Vikas works with entire communities to build Indian-style toilets and bathing rooms, as well supplying piped water facilities to homes to improve sanitation and hygiene.
Inclusion and community involvement is at the centre of Gram Vikas' approach. The organisation will not begin projects unless every household has agreed to take part, with each family also contributing approximately US$20 towards a village fund to cover maintenance and future needs of the project.
Gram Vikas' work has affected the lives of more than 117,000 children across 1,043 villages in rural Orissa, where WASH interventions were previously non-existent. 60% have been from 'Scheduled Tribes' and 'Scheduled Caste' families — two disadvantaged groups that have faced discrimination for centuries.
Interventions in water, sanitation and hygiene have had a positive, multiplying effect on the health and quality of life of these children: there has been an 85% reduction in waterborne illnesses, and there have been no reported child deaths due to diarrhoea in the last three years.
Gardens irrigated by bathing room wastewater have helped improve nutrition, and there has been a 90% increase in child immunisation. Through improved hygiene and sanitation access, and by educating parents, Gram Vikas has also seen an 80% increase in young girls' school attendance.
Photos: Suchit Nanda / Majority World