Swachh Bharat cuts groundwater contamination: studies

The reports, launched on World Environment Day (June 5), were targeted at assessing the environmental impact and communication footprint of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural)

June 5, 2019

The WHO 2018 study had predicted that Swachh Bharat will save over 300,000 lives by the time India is open defecation free

The Dalberg study found that Swachh Bharat mobilized a spend equivalent worth up to US$3.8 billion in awareness activities

UNICEF indicated that the substantial reductions in contamination can be attributed to steps taken by Swachh Bharat (Rural)

Under Swachh Bharat, India’s rural sanitation coverage has crossed the 99 per cent mark and the mission is in its final leg

Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural), which aims to improve infrastructure and promote best practices in matters related to universal sanitation, waste management, water supply, conservation, health education, among other developmental concerns, has reduced groundwater contamination. This has been found in separate studies done by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Minister for Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, added that WHO 2018 study predicted that Swachh Bharat will save over 300,000 lives by the time India is open defecation free.

The reports, launched on World Environment Day (June 5), were targeted at assessing the environmental impact and communication footprint of the mission. On the day, the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, said that protection and improvement of the human environment is a major issue that affects the well-being of peoples and economic development across the world. Under Swachh Bharat, India’s rural sanitation coverage has crossed the 99 per cent mark and the mission is in its final leg with a rising number of states and union territories achieving open defecation free status.

Under the “Environmental impact of Swachh Bharat Mission on Water, Soil, and Food” study by UNICEF, groundwater samples were collected and studied from ODF and non-ODF villages of Odisha, Bihar, and West Bengal. The study found that, in terms of faecal contamination, non-ODF villages were, on average – 11.25 times more likely to have their groundwater contaminated (12.7 times more from contaminants traceable to humans alone); 1.13 times more likely to have their soil contaminated; and 1.48 times more likely to have food contaminated, along with 2.68 times more likely to have drinking water contaminated.

UNICEF’s findings indicated that the substantial reductions can be attributed to improved sanitation and hygiene practices, as well as support systems such as regular monitoring and behavior messaging, which have all been critical aspects of Swachh Bharat (Rural). The mission is now focusing on sustaining the gains of its progress, to extend the momentum to the open defecation free (ODF)-plus phase which includes solid and liquid waste management.

Meanwhile, “Assessment of the reach and value of IEC activities under Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural)” conducted by Dalberg, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, estimated the scale of IEC activities within the Mission and assessed associated monetary and in-kind costs, and outputs such as reach. The study found that Swachh Bharat mobilized a spend equivalent worth up to US$3.8 billion in monetary and non-monetary information, education and communication (IEC) activities. Of this, cash expenditure on IEC activities by state and private entities was estimated at as much as US$580 million.