600 million people across India are facing high to extreme water stress of the magnitude 40%- 80%. Water security is decreasing as water demand rapidly outpaces available resources due to demand from multiple competing sectors such as urbanisation, agriculture and industrial growth. The UN SDG 6.4 emphasises the need to promote water- use efficiency in order to minimize water consumption and enhance water security. Water security is defined by the UN as safeguarding access to good quality and quantity of water that sustains livelihood, socio-economic development, and human well-being in a politically-stable environment.
India has invested heavily in augmenting and improving urban Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) services to improve water security. Since the early 2000s, missions such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities etc. have typically focused on city-wide supply and network extension for formal and authorised developments. Almost one-third of the urban population, who live in more precarious conditions such as in slums and other informal settlements, typically do not have adequate access to these essential services. Initiatives such as the Basic Services to the Urban Poor have tried to address these issues, but factors such as the lack of accountability mechanisms for long-term operations and maintenance, inadequate finances and ineffective community participation have led to limited success.
Trust and Transparency through Accountability Mechanisms
Accountability mechanisms and participatory practices are identified as critical components in the water and sanitation sectorto ensure integrity, improved water service delivery and sustainable governance, particularly forthe most vulnerable populations.
The Mutual Accountability Mechanism (MAM) is a global instrument developed for the water and sanitation sector that includes multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder groups at the national or international levels. The MAM provides a platform to jointly- develop ‘specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound actions’9 to meet the water and sanitation goals. The core elements of this accountability process are: (a) developing a shared vision, purpose and agenda; (b) a transparent and collaborative process to monitor and review mutual commitments; (c) providing space for dialogue and negotiation around decision-making, and (d) learning together to work towards better outcomes. The Joint Accountability Mechanism (JAM) is adapted from the MAM to be deployed at a community or local scale. Instead of hard sanctions, the JAM relies on trust and transparency and fosters collaboration by creating a shared space for dialogue and negotiations.
Thus, accountability mechanismswhen undertaken in meaningful ways enable the effective realisation of SDG 6.4.
Applying Joint Accountability Mechanisms at Community Scale
JAM presents enormous prospects for a successful community engagement and long-term effectiveness of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes. It can lead to mutual trust, complementarity, government coherence, efficient capacity building, and credible incentives. These can be achieved through dialogue, clear agreements, pronounced leadership and mutual respect to fulfil obligations. The collaborative project of World Resources Institute India, Australia-India Water Security Initiative Community Demonstration Project (AIWASI CDP) is a promising endeavour to implement JAM while adhering to its core values of a Water Sensitive City (WSC) approach and the Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) principles. The project intends to achieve two specific outcomes: a) By 2025, the two vulnerable communities become water-secure; b) Key agencies and communities adopt collaborative water governance arrangements.
The approach of a JAM is explored in two selected demonstration sites of Bakkarwala and Mubarikpur Dabas in Delhi, where government, civil society organisations and communities co-work and negotiate to establish values, roles and responsibilities.
In AIWASI, the community engagements are designed to build trust and integrity between the community, the project team and the government agencies. This process was initiated with in-depth baseline household surveys and spatial mapping exercises.
Another practice in this project, as part of building trust and engagement with the community, is the development of a project-centric ‘Community Water Forum’. This forum brings key members of the community together including community action groups, local government bodies, ward-level elected representatives and youth. Delhi Jal Board (DJB), a key government partner in this collaborative process, engages directly with the communities through these fora.
A City Water Forum has also been set up to extend the community learnings to the city. After the formal launch of the forum, it will help in Delhi’s transition to a water-sensitive city and provide a platform for stakeholder dialogue.
Collaborating on Water-Sensitive Approaches for Water Security
Technical solutions alone are insufficient to ensure water security in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Solutions may not sustain in the long run as operational challenges arise, municipal priorities shift, and adequate budgets fall short. Solutions which include technical and governance components in tandem are likely to witness more success.
The AIWASI project is an example of how a JAM can be designed and implemented in a local context to ensure effective community engagements and WASH outcomes within the framework of WSC and GEDSI. Through JAM, the community alongside government and non- governmental organisations, and technical experts, become equal stakeholders and contributors to the design, implementation and monitoring of interventions. This project will ensure that contextually-appropriate solutions are implemented by leveraging the strengths and knowledge of the local community. Hence, making the community and implementing agencies the joint stewards of such innovative new interventions.
Views expressed by Purnanjali Chandra, Prathna TC, Ashwathy Anand, (World Resources Institute India).