Sulabh liberates 60,000 scavengers, tots up $32 mn revenue: UNDP

July 1st, 2008 - 6:02 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 1 (IANS) Sulabh International, a 38-year-old movement promoting low-cost safe sanitation in the country, has liberated over 60,000 scavengers, a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released Tuesday said. The report, focusing on the various strategies adopted across the world to engage the poor, additionally said Sulabh’s revenues reached $32 million in 2005, with approximately $5 million in surplus.

Sulabh maintains 6,500 public pay per-use toilets and by 2006, had installed 1.4 million household toilets. An estimated 10 million people used its facilities across the country, the report said.

“The public toilets run by Sulabh break even within eight to nine months,” it added. “Facilities in prominent places were highly profitable.”

There is ample scope for replication and even scaling up of the Sulabh model that its founder Bindheshwar Pathak started in 1970, UNDP said.

“State governments that used to invite Sulabh into single-party tenders have now started inviting competitive bids to build and run public toilets,” it noted.

The UNDP report noted that while it was officially said in 2003 that India had 676,000 scavengers - people, mainly women, who eke out a living lifting human excreta - unofficial estimates peg the figure at 1.2 million.

Of them, Sulabh had liberated 60,000 through various skill development and adult literacy programmes; for instance, it trains women in food processing and markets their products.

It has successfully used internal and external resources to start an English medium school and a variety of business incubators targeted at the erstwhile scavengers to get them accepted in mainstream society, the report said.

Sulabh, which employs over 50,000 associates and presently operates in 26 states, also trained 19,000 masons who could build low-cost, twin-pit toilets using locally available materials, UNDP said.

Focusing on the constraints Sulabh faced when it started off, the report identified three key hurdles.

First, there was a lack of market information: businesses just did not know whether poor people would pay to use toilets and related facilities or install toilets.

Second, there existed an acute lack of widespread knowledge on propagating low-cost hygiene solutions.

And finally, perhaps the most critical factor: the poor did not have access to finance to provide for sanitation.

The report then highlights the strategies Sulabh adopted to overcome these obstacles.

It first developed an initial pilot project and demonstrated the popularity of pay-per-use toilet facilities in urban Bihar and pioneered the low-cost toilet model to be installed in poor residential areas.

Next, it constructed a museum and planned for a sanitation university, took its own designs and trained other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and started policy dialogue with governments.

“Sulabh influenced the central government and over 100,000 public toilets will be constructed in addition to local government’s provision of toilet-related loans and subsidies,” the report said.

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