India (re)Introduction

I am now working on a master’s thesis to complete my degree in sustainable development from Utrecht University. Following the Nepal research internship with UN-HABITAT in spring 2010 along with several months preparing, I came to India for thesis research. I’ll carry out a study on the subsidization effectiveness in relation to sustainability of outcomes in the Government of India’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC). I am working with a government office, the Uttarakhand Academy of Administration – Key Resource Centre on Water and Sanitation, based in Nainital, Uttarakhand in a northern hilly area of India. I also visited this same academy in October 2010, discussed in the previous post.

So, I arrived in Delhi late evening on January 8th. Upon reaching the airport, I met Andrés, a Spanish PhD student with whom I’ve been corresponding about the research. We have similar research topics. We stayed one night with friends of mine (made during a previous couch surfing experience in Delhi), spent a day chatting with the hosts, attended one of their wedding engagements (briefly as I was off, and was off to Nainital by train to reach a training workshop by the next morning.

The train ride was very exciting! After reaching the train in the Old Delhi Railway Station with only 5 minutes till departure, Andrés and I were able to find our berths. It was crazy cold on the train as the temps were around freezing in northern India at night and the windows on the train wouldn’t close all the way. I was in sleeper class (which is the second lowest out of 5 classes, and costs just $3 one way). Even with my sleeping bag and all my clothes on, it was still chilly and I was up most of the night with the wind blowing on my face, loud trains zooming by in the opposite direction, and frequent intercity stops at which time food and chai (tea) sellers would board the train to attempt a few sales. We made it to the training facility in Nainital to discover the workshop would be cancelled due to poor attendance of expected participants. There is no heating indoors here and it is around freezing in January, so we were wearing all of our clothes, jackets, long underwear, hats and gloves all day long. This cool climate was enough to scare away the expected participants for the sanitation workshop. So, I joined a Government of India workshop for the week on training skills and effective communication (coaching, lecturing, leading discussions and group exercises). It was intended for GoI employees and was very impressive. The sanitation training I had hoped to attend then took place over the weekend. We spent 2 days in the classroom learning about community sanitation in rural India and even spent a day in a rural farming village (tomatoes are in season!) in the plains about 2 hours driving from Nainital. During the village visit, we practiced “triggering” a community without toilets and using open defecation to change to construct and use toilets. It was very interesting to experience, even though it was all in Hindi. We finished the workshop Sunday.

I returned to Delhi Tuesday January 18th with Vinod, the Deputy Director of the water and sanitation department at the training academy. After further discussion, Vinod and I decided to develop the research project as part of his organization. This way it might be possible to solicit funding from the Government of India for the study. I am now retooling my existing research proposal to increase chances of receiving funding. I may be conducting the research in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

I’m now in Delhi, staying with the same friends from before (Nirmal, Saman, Francis, Manu), holding scoping interviews with GO and NGO contacts from UNICEF, WaterAid, WSP/World Bank, Knowledge Links, The Energy and Resources Institute and Feedback Ventures. I’ve had 7 meetings so far with more on the agenda. When not in meetings or at home, I am spending my days in various libraries, cafes and bookstores in Delhi working on my thesis. I will be in India through May to conduct the study. Then I’ll be back to Utrecht to complete the thesis over the summer!

Early morning walk with participants from the sanitation training workshop in Nainital. The yellow dress makes one happy and healthy with positive energy.
Women carrying firewood in the hills around Nainital in the early morning for cooking, heating or selling.

The city of Nainital is located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India on a lake. Naini is the Hindi word for eye and Tal is the Hindi word for Lake. So, here you see the Lake of Eyes, which is shaped somewhat like an eye!

During the sanitation training workshop we visited a village to practice triggering change from open defecation to toilet construction and use. We had to cross this dry riverbed to reach the village. It was completely dry, but during the summer monsoon, the river flow is so swift the village is completely cut off from any other towns. The community members said that being cut off from the other towns is their greatest problem in life, along with wild animals (tigers, elephants, rhinos) from the jungle who destroy crops and attack livestock.

An important part of the village intervention to improve sanitation is community mapping. During the exercise all houses are marked on a map of the community, made by the villagers. Then the open defecation areas are marked. This leads into discussion of the sanitation situation, calculation of faeces produced in the village, disease cost calculation as a result of diarrhea related to poor water and insanitary environment, how shit gets into water and food, and others.

Shot of some friends from the training academy who were attending a government training for civil servants. They will become police officers in a few months.