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Towards self-reliance and access to safe drinking water and secure sanitation in north Bihar: A report by Megh Pyne Abhiyan (2011)

Megh Pyne Abhiyan

This report talks of the successes and challenges in fulfilling the endeavour of moving towards self reliance and access to safe drinking water and securing sanitation in north Bihar, the areas of concern and shortcomings, and acknowledges the missing links to find the way forward.

The report divided into 3 sections, begins with an overview of the regions problems, the recurring flood, the setbacks caused by them and how the existing flood management system has exacerbated the crisis, deepening poverty levels. It also looks at the drinking water, sanitation and agriculture problems caused by these periodic floods.

Section I, comprising of 2 chapters, illustrates the irony that though rivers overflow and the lands are saturated with water during monsoons, there is Main Reporta severe shortage of drinking water. It talks about the government flood management policies, which have intensified the crisis and worked to the detriment of the region and its people. It also elaborates on the colossal human tragedy that follows the monsoons, how thousands of people perish every year along with their livestock, standing crops are lost, huge tracts of land remain water-logged for months and epidemics break out.

Section II  chalks out how Megh Pyne Abhiyan, literally cloud’s water campaign, begun in 2006, uses long term planning of sustainable water management as its initial plank for ecological, economic and social regeneration. Also MPA aims, approach, organisational structure and allies are discussed in depth.

Section III aims to capture MPA forays into its operational areas in depth and shows the need for tying them into a circle of continuum. It highlights the success stories, how MPA overcame resistance to its initiatives, and its efforts to be an alternate model of development. It talks of their innovations, their attempt to document traditional water management practices, and struggles to anticipate emerging threats. It also gathers oral testimonies of people in the region, recording their response to their campaign.

The final section pulls together the discrete campaign elements, looks at good practices and future plans. It throws light on MPAs successes, as well as the core challenges it faces and its burgeoning partnerships. It describes how the campaign is moving forward by evolving a framework, to be made operational through a set of key processes, that will enable people to make decisions about their concerns.

Click here to read the complete report

Click here to read more about Megh Pyne Abhiyan


Green Sanitation Foundation, an NGO in Kolkata develops biotoilets, a unique toilet technology

Green Sanitation Foundation is an NGO in Kolkata that strives to improve hygiene and sanitation in India through the use of BioToilets. Biotoilets are biological toilets, named so because they convert human waste into non toxic, non contaminating water compatible with environmental standards, through application of multi strain bacteria culture, using aerobic forms of bacteria. 

Watch this film on biotoilets, and how they can help to stop open defecation in India. Video courtesy Green Sanitation Foundation

Another major advantage of these biotoilets is that they do not need a sewage system to operate. They treat solid waste and convert it to liquid form, which is harmless and does not contaminate groundwater, soil, etc. Learn more about the biotoilet technology here.

One biotoilet costs Rs.25 - 30,000, which includes training on O&M, communication efforts, etc. Multiple biotoilets will cost more. GSF is also working on developing solar powered community bio-toilets.

Biotoilet in a village

A biotoilet in a home

Bio digestor tank  in village made of bricks & mortar.

Bio digestor tank  made of brick and mortar

Bio digestor tank waste goes to nearby field for raising crops

Biodigestor tank waste goes to nearby field for irrigation

Biodigestor tanks for community toilets

Biodigestor tank for community toilets

Array of portable bio-toilets in labour colony at construction site

Portable bio-toilets at construction site. Pictures courtesy Sudip Sen, Green Sanitation Foundation

For more information on biotoilets, contact Mr. Sudip Sen on

Green Sanitation Foundation
16, Taratalla Road,
Kolkata 700 088
Ph: +91 33 2401 4661-8 


Briefing papers on ‘Jal kothis’, ‘Matka filter’, 'Dug wells' and ‘Phayedemand shauchalaya’: Local innovative solutions in flood prone Bihar by Megh Pyne Abhiyan (2011)

Megh Pyne Abhiyan

Megh Pyne Abhiyan, supported by Arghyam, has been working towards self-reliance and access to safe drinking water and secure sanitation, in 22 panchayats of five flood-prone districts of north Bihar. Briefing papers to a few innovative localized solutions are given below

  1. Jal Kothis: A locally innovative rainwater storage structure in flood affected areas
  2. Matka Filter: An indigenous solution to iron contaminated water in Bihar
  3. Phayedemand Shauchalaya: Design and technical details of a beneficial toilet
  4. Dug wells: A potential safe source of drinking water for arsenic and iron contaminated region 

Jal Kothis: A locally innovative rainwater storage structure in flood affected areas

Jal KothiFor people of Bihar, floods are a recurrent problem affecting their crops, livestock and living conditions. Most water sources including the wells and ponds become flooded or water logged during monsoons.  Surrounded by dirty , polluted water during the floods, people are nevertheless forced to use the same for drinking and cooking food. This is a major problem for flood affected areas where clean drinking water is unavailable, affecting the health of the concerned communities.

To overcome this, Megh Pyne Abhiyan, a campaign and functional network, began work on a project to provide clean drinking water during floods in a few districts of Bihar.  In collaboration with Savera  and Water Action groups, the idea was to collect rainwater and use it for drinking and cooking. Initial trials included plastic and mud containers, but were discontinued due to problems of odour, pollution and easy breakage.

The long term solution was to create a water container that would store water for a greater period of time. Experiments were carried out and the existing age old grain storage structure was innovated and modified into a rainwater storage facility now known as ‘Jal Kothi’.

Various designs with varying storage capacity and raw materials have been developed locally with the help of skilled craft persons and masons. The construction procedure and materials required are detailed in this paper.

These locally innovative ‘Jal Kothis’ not only allow flood affected people to store clean water in sufficient amount but also provides employment opportunities to local craftsmen.

Click here to read the full briefing paper

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Matka Filter: An indigenous solution to iron contaminated water in Bihar

Matka FilterNorthern Bihar is a flood prone area where drinking water has a high iron content. Survey carried out in this area brought out the issue of high iron content in groundwater in the area. Though government had initiated ‘ Kosi Amrit Drinking Water Scheme’ in some districts which included iron removal units, it was unable to reach all concerned people.

A local technique to gauge presence of iron in water was known, but the actual contamination level could not be ascertained. A survey with the help of ‘ Development Alternatives’ was carried out to measure this . Based on the findings the necessity of iron free water was felt.

A modified ‘Matka’ filter was the outcome of this study which had the advantage of following a local technique along with providing iron free water. This specially designed mud water filter is made out of locally available clay, sand, charcoal and brick .The demand for matka filters has provided the local potters with an opportunity to strengthen their traditional livelihood practice .

The materials required, construction techniques and expenses involved are all described in the paper. The advantages and precautions to be taken have also been detailed.

Click here to read complete briefing paper

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Phayedemand Shauchalaya: Design and technical details of a beneficial toilet

Phyedemand ShauchalayaFour months of floods in north Bihar plays havoc with the sanitation conditions of the people living in these areas. More affected are women, children, the old and the infirm when the existing toilets are submerged in the flood waters. Even when the floods recede, defecation is usually carried out in the open, close to the living areas. This faecal matter pollutes the water, increasing the risk of water borne diseases like typhoid, cholera etc.

The’ Phayedemand Shauchalaya’ aka  beneficial toilet is different from the usual one, protecting and conserving water. It has separate collection tanks for urine and faecal matter, which are built above the ground.It is not only cheap and long lasting, but also prevents water wastage.  It can be used both during and after the floods conveniently.

Megh Pyne Abhiyan (MPA) collaborated with Biome, local agencies and village panchayats to bring this concept to 5 flood affected districts in Bihar. Design details, material required and construction procedure are all explained in this paper.

Click here to read the full briefing paper

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Dug wells- A potential safe source of drinking water for arsenic and iron contaminated region in north Bihar 

With the invention and large scale marketing of hand pumps, dug wells slowly started losing its significance. This had led to the transformation of theDug Well wells into dumping yards of garbage and also a place, above which houses are getting constructed. However, Megh Pyne Abhiyan, a campaign and functional network started a dug well project in rural Bihar. Though initially a lot of resistance came from people against this endeavour of MPA, later on the campaign managed to bring people together to solve the drinking water problem.

Arsenic contamination of groundwater has been recognised by Megh Pyne Abhiyan (MPA) in 15 districts of north Bihar. The contamination has profound impact on human health that hampers people’s productivity and thereby affecting their livelihood. MPA has collaborated with Advanced Centre for Groundwater Development and Management (ACWADAM), Biome Solutions, Development Alternatives (DA) to understand the groundwater dynamics of the region that includes issues of water quality and its linkages to drinking water and sanitation. The details of this project is elaborated in the paper.

Click here to read the full briefing paper.


"Arghyam prepares Water Quality Management (WQM) framework for rural areas" - Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation releases its first e-newsletter on water and sanitation in India (December 2012)

The first e-newsletter, launched by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, titled - 'Swajal Nirmal Bharat' begins with a renewed focus on the achievement of sanitation outcomes. It discusses the Working Group’s review of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), now called the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) or the Clean India Campaign and its suggested strategies, priorities, and allocation for implementation in the 12th Five Year Plan. It talks on how the new strategy is aimed at transforming rural India into ‘Nirmal Bharat’ by adopting the community saturation approach.

A nationwide campaign by Arghyam, carried out to create awareness on water quality issues with a specific focus on fluoride contamination in groundwater sources, engaging students from across the country in a water quality testing, analysis, and reporting exercise is illustrated.

In the newsletter, the spotlight is turned on:

- States that are lagging behind in many service parameters in the National Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (NRDWP) programme

- Shirguppi, a village in Karnataka, for sustaining 100 percent total sanitation and community managed water supply

- Vadakkencherry, Kerala, for transformation of a filth point into a beautiful pond and garden, with an attached sanitary complex

It the highlights the story of the tribal village of Chaphyachapada in Nashik district, Maharashtra, as an example of total transformation through good participatory practices. Implementation of an innovative scheme by the Ministry, in which a solar energy-based submersible pump is installed on a high yielding borewell to tackle drinking water problems of remote and small hamlets/habitations is included. Towards the end, a capacity building programme and its success story for establishing Block Resource Centers (BRCs) across Maharashtra, is detailed.

In the NGO corner, water quality management (WQM) framework for rural areas, prepared by Arghyam, is focussed upon. The framework lays out a phased and process-driven approach to WQM and is based on the work by prominent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on water quality (WQ) from across the country.

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"Arghyam prepares Water Quality Management (WQM) framework for rural areas" - Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation releases its first e-newsletter on water and sanitation in India (December 2012)814.74 KB

Video: ‘Water futures - It’s everyone’s business’: A talk by Rohini Nilekani

Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology was started to sponsor and promote research in indology and aspects of Indian culture. It organises a highly prestigious yearly event, the Bhogilal Leherchand Memorial Lectures ,  calling on people of eminence to speak on variant topics highlighting the institutes moral vibrancy and intellectual reach.Read More

The week that was: Nirmal Bharat Yatra

September 30th - The skies poured out the day we were to leave for Nagpur. The morning shower felt like a blessing. Thankful, but sceptical of the weather, our biggest concern was whether the rains would follow us. In Nagpur, the moment we stepped out the heat hit us. Clear skies welcomed us and for that we were grateful.


En route to Wardha

The cab ride from Nagpur to Wardha was a good one. We were still getting used to the heat that this region experiences. The sun still defines movement for people here. Post 12, the crowds thin, streets wear a deserted look, if at all people need to venture out they wrap themselves completely to avoid sun burns and tanning. 

Rain – there was no sign of it. Good? We thought so.

We began to get a good feeling about this trip – being part of Nirmal Bharat Yatra – fifty days on the road covering six cities (Wardha, Indore, Kota, Gwalior, Gorakpur, Bettiah) in five states (Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar)– creating awareness about hygiene and sanitation.  
For the three of us – Aneesha Menon, Urmila Chanam and I, the journey looked promising. We had agreed to find order in our own chaos.

October 1 – T3 & field trips
It felt like we were on a mission. Nine in the morning we were sitting across strangers, notepads, pens and eager faces. The schedule promised a packed day and it did start like clock-work – on time. We met Zelda Yanovich, technical officer, Networking and Knowledge management, Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), who briefed us about the Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) lab and its role in schools and during the yatra. Maria Fernandes and Vijay Gawade facilitated us and the local volunteers. We watched them at work, learning how they talk about a subject that is shrouded in silence.

MHM Tablet training

Menstrual Hygiene Management Tablet training

I had accompanied Maria for the Train-the-trainer and her session was in the afternoon, post lunch. We waited our turn, watching the other teams train teachers on the nuances of hygiene and sanitation. Wash United, who has developed the yatra along with Quicksand, in collaboration with the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, showed the teachers a low-cost and effective way to encourage hand-washing among students.

Tippy Tap demo in school

Tippy tap demonstration in a school

The emphasis of this pre-yatra outreach is to get teachers mobilised. Teachers are considered a medium to promote better hygiene and sanitation among children.

Therefore, in the training, teachers were taught a18-steps hand-washing technique. Keeping in mind the monotony of theory-based learning, these ‘lessons’ are high on activities. Teachers adapted well to their new role – letting go of inhibitions, participating in activities as well as discussions.
Teachers played goo-in-the-loo (also known as the poo-in-the-loo) game, specially designed to get the message of using toilets to end open-defecation. There were teams that emphasised the benefits of using toilets – suraksha (security), pariyavarn (environment), samman (respect) and vikas (prosperity). Apart from being a laughter-filled game, it allowed healthy discussion on the why’s of open-defecation.

Teachers' play

Teachers play World Toilet Cup

Post lunch, Maria began her session on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). Without an elaborate preface, she got straight to point with pointed questions – What are the problems faced by girls in school during their monthly cycle; what are the problem faced by female teachers in school during their monthly cycle and lastly, what are the problems that the male teachers face when girls have their monthly cycle?
For the first time such a discussion was being facilitated during a training session and the look on the teachers face said it all. There was awkwardness, a little bit of silly giggle and laughter as men made light of the situation and women smirked. It took some time for the group of 16 to comfortably discuss, even then it was all done under the pretext of ‘serious training’.

Shows how, even today, in rural areas and may be even urban centres we aren’t comfortable discussing about a natural process. It is a bodily function, yet, it is never spoken about as just that. The training brought to light the awareness levels of teachers – female as well as male. 
Being educators doesn’t automatically transform them into change-makers. Outside the school they are individuals who follow practises, not necessarily questioning their relevance. In that, it was a tough job as a facilitator to give their thoughts a different direction.

Then to be able to have a discussion on whether such a topic needs an open platform, shows Maria’s tenacity as a trainer passionate to break the culture of silence. She does it one training at a time. While taboos were discussed, and teachers pointed at the hurdles of initiating discussion among students – girls and boys, Maria patiently listened and prescribed easy solution(s). It was fascinating not just to watch the discussion but also to watch a trainer charming her way. Her mantra is simplicity.

As the session ended, the teachers seemed more charged to tackle the situation. Funding may be a concern, even water, but they came up with short-term solutions to ensure girls have a better experience in school during their cycle. Whether those promises will translate into concrete steps in the right direction only a follow up, in the future, will show.

October 2:
On Gandhi Jayanti, being in Sewagram felt surreal, one doesn’t just plan a trip to Sewagram. It was a day of rushed check-outs and check-ins and in that order. The ground was ready for D-day, the sun shining down our heads, got swallowed by menacing black clouds. The afternoon rain dissolved as the big rain drops began to beat down at us. We sat in the tent which was to be home for the next few days. Waiting for the rain lashing to subside, instead we watched as the rain filled at the edges of the tent, little streams soaked the carpeted floor. As it thinned out, the cool breeze mixed with the warmth of the earth. Twenty minutes of rain left the places slushy, drenched, and that’s when we were moved to a hotel in Wardha. Our home, until the weather cleared enough for outdoor, tent stay.

Everything was a drippy mess, as we boarded the bus to the hotel, wondered how the venue would be ready for the official opening the next day.
Morning we had checked out, by evening we were back in the same hotel. The rain had followed us from Bangalore.

By Vaishalli Chandra, India Water Portal Fellow, Arghyam

For full coverage by India Water Portal of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, click here.

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