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Introducing Disaster Preparedness through Water and Sanitation

Location: North Bihar

Villagers in the remote and deprived communities of flood-prone north Bihar live an especially perilous existence. Their marginal livelihoods are threatened for much of the year, their already inadequate sanitation disappears during flooding, and their isolated location can leave them almost entirely cut off for up to eight months of the year. While there are many issues to be addressed in relation to disaster preparedness for these communities, the government of Bihar's minister of disaster management chose to focus on alleviating the specific problem of water and sanitation so that residents would at least be able to maintain basic health and hygiene practices in the wake of future floods, and thus avoid the problem of widespread disease caused by open defecation and drinking unsafe water.

Following an initial six-month intervention, IDF partnered with WaterAid to develop a three-year project in 61 villages to install community toilets and raised hand pumps designed and located to withstand flooding successfully. After experimenting with a number of models during the first year, project staff were able to determine which one was most cost-effective and use one standardized design. Community members met to decide which locations for the toilets and hand pumps would serve them best during floods and throughout the year. Selected community volunteers were then trained to maintain the facilities, fill rescue bags with essential items, and act in teams to implement emergency measures in time of flooding.

As a result of the installation of sanitary facilities, regular meetings, and extensive training, villagers gradually not only adopted improved hygiene standards but also came to understand that taking advance measures to cope with seasonal flooding results in clear and measurable benefits for all. Most important, community members developed a sense of collective responsibility for the newly acquired facilities and of their right to adequate services from the government.

Click here for the project report (pdf).

Flooding is routine for these north Bihar villagers