Official coverage figures for rural water supply make us hopeful - MDG targets for water will likely be met. Yet, the disappointing reality is that only a fraction of this is functional and providing regular water supply that is safe for drinking. The premature deterioration of ‘improved’ water supply makes unreliable and unsafe water services a daily reality for large parts of the rural population in Asia.
SNV recognises that providing functional and sustainable water supply services is a challenge that goes far beyond coverage at a given point in time. Increased capacity at all levels is essential for sustainability.
Access to sanitation is essential for human well-being, dignity and economic development. While demand creation innovations such as Community Led Total Sanitation are providing an unprecedented opportunity to start changing hygiene behaviour of rural people, evidence shows that behavioural change will not be sustained unless a number of key supporting conditions are met. One of these conditions is access to affordable and appropriate sanitation hardware and services.
Market-based sanitation solutions have the most potential for scale and sustainability. However, rural sanitation markets are poorly developed and outreach is limited. Shops selling hardware and masons building toilets exist in any country, but the challenge is to reach many more customers across the socio-economic spectrum.
Particular attention is required to address the needs and preferences of different consumer segments, most notably special needs groups, households living in poverty, ethnic minorities and low caste groups. Because rural sanitation supply chains and finance often need to be strengthened, work should start in this area before and then be conducted in parallel to demand creation activities.
Diarrhoeal disease is the second largest killer of children under five. Evidence shows that improved sanitation and hygiene behavior and safe disposal of human excreta is the most effective way to reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease.
Improved sanitation and hygiene behavior is as much an individual choice of people and families as it is a common good for communities. Disease transmission is not stopped by household boundaries: the unhygienic practices of one family may infect a whole community.