Round Table on
‘Information Communication Technology for Drinking Water and Sanitation’
October 16, 2008

By Devvrat Kapoor

Water, water, everywhere, not any drop to drink! When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote these famous lines in his “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” over two centuries ago, he would not have, in his wildest dreams, have dreamt that these lines would assume such prophetic importance in today’s time. Availability of water has become a matter of concern today and it is not for reasons not known to us.

Therefore various questions were put forward during the roundtable discussion on issues related to drinking water and sanitation and answers were sought. The participants were from different organizations and NGOs. A few of the participants and the organization they represented were: Mr. Rajesh Shah, P.O. Water Space; Ms. Premila Nazrat from World Bank; Ms. Mrinalinee Vanarase from Ecological Society; Dr. Megha from World Bank working as freelance consultant; Ms. Meenani from Water Community, India; Mr. Deepak from RBM; representatives from panchayats;  Dr. Thapar, Department of Social Welfare(Delhi unit);   Mr. Ram Niwas,   from Barefoot College, Tilonia;   Mr. Pramod, Water Aid (International charity organization). 

The first speaker was from a young organization, ITM which has been devoted to work in the water sector since 2005 and manages a fund of Rs.12crore a year for the same. Its sphere is restricted to domestic water sector only. It is spread over some areas of north Bihar, where it is working for rain water harvesting with support from local NGO’s and also in a small place in Tamil Nadu by the name of Grichi for the purpose of sanitation. It has its influence even in Rajasthan. The organization focuses on the increased use of liquid wastes like urine which are better than fertilizers. Also, importance of organizing database in water sector was highlighted. The drawbacks were unclear picture of data and its poor quality. They succeeded in making meteorological data for the entire country for a period of past 100 years. The step forward was based on community collection of data, means for language gap bridging and use of more technology in cell phones which could give forecasts of weather.

Dr. Megha Phansalkar focused on her experience in 80 Gram Panchayats of Maharashtra. The achievements have been that Content Management Software has been developed for data collection in local languages and a learning kit by the name of e-learning has been developed which UNESCO.

Mr. Rajesh Shah pointed out that the managements who plan water projects in certain areas are not completely aware like the locals of the grass root situation which exists in those places and therefore cannot be experts and hence local involvement is must.
Further the failure of various projects is not reported because of fear that the future projects would not get the funds required. Also in villages equal distribution of work should be done i.e. different projects in different villages should be set up which could be done only when a centralized database revealing the information of all projects going on at one point of time is developed. This will bring transparency into the system.

Ms. Lalita Sharma, Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan, talked about the work done by school students in Neerjal, i.e., collection of sample of water, location for hand pumps, study of type of water and many other things with the help of simple software. They are also working on a project to sweeten the water of Sambar Lake.

Mr. Pramod highlighted that wrong information is being displayed by respective state Governments to give rosy pictures to the outside world. For instance, he pointed out, that there are 604 slums in Indore City itself whereas the state Govt. puts their number at around 300 only. He has worked in 4 cities in Madhya Pradesh and has shortlisted 65 slums for Water sanitation out of 1500 slums mapped in these cities. He has been using GIS applications in 384 Pockets of aforesaid 4 cities for collection of Data. He is working on Water Management. Another NGO have adopted TOT system to train village leaders in 20 Zilas of Haryana to spread awareness among the masses. It started in July, 2006. It consists of 40% theory & 60% field work.

There was at the end of the day, a group discussion wherein 2 important questions were discussed and action plan mooted. The questions were as under:
1. Assessment of ICT training needs for water practitioners and communities. Also innovative ICT applications for water and sanitation sector that can be delivered through ICT kiosks and mobile platforms. What are the challenges is in Field testing?
2. What are the mechanisms for ICT enabled social audit of Govt.’s Water and Sanitation Programme including inputs from citizens?

The above questions were discussed and the following suggestions/ action plan was mooted:

For Question No. 1:
• Use of local language in such areas should be adopted to increase local participation.
• Data collection to be given most importance at the grass root level as this data is the base for macro analysis.
• Knowledge updation is very essential.
• Explaining people that use of technology would not end their work but will only assist them.
• Increase participation of women and children in welfare organizations.
• Improvement in the field of pilot projects required.
• Objectives for which the data is being collected should be predetermined for better data management.
• Use of sign language could be developed in this field.

For Question No. 2 :
• The first issue was to create more computer literates to spread awareness among the masses and provide computer and internet access to various villages.
• The second issue was the quality of water in various places. It was decided that water quality index should be maintained on seasonal basis to make people aware of the quality of water they are using.
• The final issue was to devise a data which compares the government’s reports of work done and ground reality which exists.
• The places for action plan were Sangam in Allahabad in northern region and any village near river Kaveri in Karnataka in the south.

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