Building WASH workforce army: the Open Access Way

3 min read

Fifty-five year old Kalavati Devi is one of many trained masons in Kanpur city, Uttar Pradesh who works to build toilets across slums and in lower income settlements. Two years ago, she participated in a training programme on masonry with a focus on toilet construction that was organised by WaterAid India in partnership with Shramik Bharti. Ever since, she has been involved with not only construction work but also in organising awareness meetings with slum dwellers to help make settlements Open Defecation Free.

Kalavati, 60,  a female mason, at the restored hand pump, Rakhi Mandi slum, Kanpur, India, 2 April 2014.
Kalavati at the restored hand pump in Rakhi Mandi slum of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.

An important initiative by WaterAid India has been to train people with maintenance skills for WASH facilities, towards instilling collective responsibility and self-sufficiency over long term. In a model attempt, we began developing an mWater database of this workforce. mWater is a web-based as well as a free mobile app designed to help stakeholders map and monitor water sources in line with Sustainable Development Goal 6.

The app essentially reduces the burden of manually maintaining large databases, and turns survey forms into accessible and well-designed content. The database also allows for keying in information on women and men like Kalavati, who with their skills develop a sustainable operation and maintenance system at the grass root level. This database currently covers details from capacity building programmes conducted from April–December 2015 by 13 of our partners from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The local partners identify participants/volunteers for training in different areas like masonry, repair work of sanitary ware and hand pumps, developing solid/liquid waste water management etc.

The application also exports responses in a spreadsheet, which will help deeper analyses at later stages. Applying district or training specific filters generates a list of trainees who can then be approached for skilled services directly by interested parties.

Kamla Devi, 65, caretaker of the water filter in Sripalpur, carrying out her general duties at the water filter, Sripalpur, Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013.
Kamla Devi, 65 years old, caretaker of water filter in Sripalpur, Uttar Pradesh.

Because mWater is open access, district administration and other key stakeholders can readily use and build on the available human capital. This would be useful for state teams and partners in mobilising people, in campaigning, in tracking behavioural changes, and so on.  This is a vital step in ensuring sustainability.

As part of the next steps, the usage of the workforce will also be tracked to gauge which skills are most in demand on the ground which can help plug any skill or demand gaps as needed.

WaterAid India works with the Panchayati Raj Departments and district administrations of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to ensure universal access to WASH by amplifying government initiatives under the Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM). It actively supports planning from Gram Panchayats to district levels, facilitates in developing skilled human resources, creates sanitation assets, generates community demand for toilets, develops models on solid/liquid waste management, and establishes transparency and accountability mechanisms at all levels. I hope that the trained WASH workforce database available through mWater will act as extended limbs for supporting effective implementation of SBM.

Ashima Chetan is Programme Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at WaterAid India.