Innovations as a requisite for addressing urban WASH sector issues in India

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The primary goal of NIUA is to promote integrated solutions for rapidly growing urban centers in the country, and address various challenges they face to provide improved services to citizens, says Professor Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), New Delhi in conversation with Elets News Network (ENN).

What are the key concerns of the urban WASH sector in India that demands innovative solutions? 

Rapid urbanisation, along with growth opportunities is imposing multiple challenges for Indian cities and one of them being access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all citizens. An acute shortage of WASH infrastructure and services in the Indian cities is only making the issues more glaring. Hence, it becomes crucial for the city administrators to make steadfast efforts, and implement best practices and models in resolving these pressing concerns before they compound further. To address these problems, the government has launched flagship missions such as Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission. However, to sustain the efforts through these missions and be cognizant of the future landscape of issues of urban India, adopting innovative technologies and solutions for provisioning of water and sanitation needs to be a plausibility factor.

With the ever-growing size of the Indian cities, there is an influx of floating population that come to the cities for work purpose as well as for tourism. This floating population most of the time faces difficulties in accessing sanitation facilities. The inadequacy is not only prevalent in the work environment of daily laborers, but also during their commute to work from peri-urban areas to the cities; travellers out for sightseeing; local residents commuting for various purposes. Women, who also form a major part of this moving population, suffer a lot due to lack of public sanitation facilities. This problem needs to be addressed as it inadvertently leads to open defecation. Such challenges require solutions with an innovative edge at the local level essentially implemented by the urban local bodies.

How an initiative like IHUWASH project by NIUA would improve the Urban WASH sector of India?

The National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) is a premier institute and an autonomous body under the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, Government of India (GoI) for research and capacity building in the urban sector. The primary goal of NIUA is to promote integrated solutions for rapidly growing urban centres in the country, and address various challenges they face to provide improved services to citizens. Over the years, NIUA has also been supporting a number of urban local bodies through its capacity building programmes, conducting research for specific urban issues, and creating knowledge platforms like Smartnet.

The experience helped NIUA learn that at the city level the intra-departmental coordination and engagement with all relevant stakeholders to augment efforts for provisioning of clean water and sanitation facilities for the citizens are rare to find. NIUA has been actively engaged in addressing WASH focused issues through an array of projects, and has worked towards developing new research and expertise for supporting effective innovations in the urban WASH sector. One of the problems with numerous urban projects has been that there have been many pilots but they succeed only in one of the microcosm—only in isolation—or in one particular context. However, the moment you take it out from one particular context and place it somewhere else; it does not work.

Therefore, NIUA conceived the IHUWASH project, which primarily focuses on scaling and replicating localised solutions and work as an ecosystem. NIUA with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) endeavoured to create an Innovation Hub for Urban Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (IHUWASH) solution in India. During its inception stage, the hub focused on understanding the local WASH needs of the cities and identify innovative solutions—new and existing—that are relevant to the local context. The idea was to adopt business models and best practices, and replicate them in the local context. The solution may not be the same for each city, as it would differ depending on their needs. Hence, it was essential to create an ecosystem to support that replication and scaling of solutions.

The IHUWASH project has a very important dimension, which is provisioning of innovative public and community toilets. What is the uniqueness of IHUWASH project?

To ensure the success of IHUWASH project it was important that the key stakeholders—municipal corporations, industries and private sector, academia, and the citizenry—are coalesced to create and strengthen the ecosystem of WASH. The ecosystem comprises of a number of different players, and primarily it is the local administration, also known as the Urban Local Body led by the Municipal Commissioner, which needs to spearhead the programme. However besides Urban Local Body, the local businesses, industries and associations of the city also form an integral part of the ecosystem. One of the big problems in Indian cities is that a city may have a top rank university, but there is little or no interaction between the municipality and academia.

This is a lost opportunity to make use of the huge amount of knowledge and experience, and insight, which is available in the university within the city. Hence, IHUWASH in its focus cities of Mysuru, Udaipur, and Faridabad has created City Innovation Hubs within the municipal corporations under the guidance of the city commissioners. The municipal corporations with IHUWASH facilitation have collaborated with local technical institutions to create WASH labs that support the municipal corporations in implementing the innovative WASH solutions.

The National Institute of Engineering at Mysuru, Geetanjali Institute of Technical Studies at Udaipur, and Manav Rachna International Institute of Research Studies at Faridabad house the WASH Labs in the respective cities. The labs will work with the municipal corporations to find locally relevant WASH solutions and extend their efforts in involving the private sector and citizenry to create a WASH forum. IHUWASH is also an effort to answer one critical question: how do we build an ecosystem that can scale and replicate good solutions either born in India or abroad, and service the need for better sanitation and water supply, and better hygiene outcomes?

What are the expected outcomes and long-term impact of the IHUWASH project in improving urban WASH sector?

The IHUWASH project is to run for three years. The real impact zone of the project are the three project cities in India, i.e. Mysuru, Udaipur and Faridabad; where NIUA is looking to demonstrate the proof of concept developed so that it is able to showcase this theory of change for developing the ecosystem for supporting innovations in the WASH sector. NIUA is trying to create a kind of microcosm of this ecosystem through the project and its components in the three project cities.

It is expected that pilot interventions of innovative public sanitation facilities under the project alone will directly benefit nearly 90,000 beneficiaries each year in project cities. Besides the WASH Labs and innovative sanitation facilities, the project is working on introducing state-of-the-art WASH solutions through its WASH Accelerator programme. So far, 58 unique solutions have been sourced, of which 28 have been showcased to all the three partner municipal corporations.

Through this, IHUWASH plans to upscale 8 innovative solutions which will address some of the pressing national and local WASH issues. With two years of engagement, the project has also witnessed an advanced level of awareness about the goals of the project amongst its stakeholders. We are also realizing that our ecosystem partners are eager and enthusiastic to make IHUWASH a success story. In that sense, we have been able to build up the stake of the stakeholders, and they all feel invested. Through various efforts, the project targets to achieve the establishment of an ecosystem in the focus cities, which will be able to cater to not just the city but the state as well, possibly even the country.

Through the progress and accomplishments of the project, we foresee a potential to do so in future. In addition, if we are able to deliver these outcomes—provision for good services, well-managed public

What are the needs and outcomes of the National WASH Innovation Summit?

India is gaining a momentum and developing an appetite for innovative solutions in the urban sector. This thrust is due to the various efforts, and missions by the Government of India and its Ministries including MoHUA and government organisations such as NIUA and NITI Aayog to find innovative solutions, which will address the future of Indian urban sector. IHUWASH has already demonstrated a proof of concept to source, incubate and upscale innovations at city level by engaging key stakeholders such as the urban local body, industries, academia and civil society.

The summit aims to highlight this proof of concept for cross- learning purpose. Further, innovations are not only in technological realm but also in the business models for sustainability, behaviour change through latest tools such as Information, Education and Communication (IEC) for effective awareness among communities; demonstrated by various international agencies working in the country. Private Sector is also increasingly playing an important role in addressing WASH related issues through CSR. With promotional activities by the government, many startups are venturing into the WASH sector with their solutions. The summit provides platform for such entrepreneurs to highlight their products to overall universe. Thus, briefly the WASH Innovation Summit will act as catalyst to give momentum to the innovation ecosystem and contribute to resolve pressing issues specifically in the WASH sector. The summit will provide that common platform for various stakeholders, innovators, and the solution implementers –all together on a common platform, which will provide visibility to the various efforts, programmes, and innovations, which currently exists in the country

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