Improving Sanitation in India: SHRI’s Tech-Driven Approach with Dalgo

Written by: Anoop, SHRI

Eliminating open defecation has long been one of India’s greatest development challenges. A number of government-led programs, dating back to the 1980s, have tried to solve this enormous issue. In 2014, the government launched the most ambitious program to date. Called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), this program aimed at ending open defecation through the provision of financial subsidies to households to promote toilet construction. Millions of household toilets have been built since, dramatically reducing the overall burden of open defecation throughout the country. 

Nevertheless, as of 2021, approximately 24 crore people throughout India were defecating in the open. A large reason for this is that household toilets remain infeasible for many of India’s poorest citizens. Land constraints, credit constraints, and inadequate sewer connectivity prevent households from building a toilet. 

As a response, the government has invested heavily in building community toilets that can be used by those who are unable to own a household toilet. The government has built over six lakh community facilities since 2014. Unfortunately, the government has not provided any guidance for how these facilities are to be maintained. They quickly become dirty and are rendered useless, forcing people to revert to open defecation. 

Sanitation and Health Rights in India (SHRI) installs a professionalized operating and maintenance (O&M) system at government-built facilities to help improve facility quality, an important predictor of use. SHRI has developed an online dashboard that displays key quality and use metrics to demonstrate the impact of its system. Overall, 6,000 people, who otherwise would be defecating in the open, use SHRI’s 14 facilities daily for free. 

SHRI’s partnership with Dalgo has been critical to the development of an automated system to display daily facility quality and use data. Before this partnership, SHRI’s quality and use data had to be manually manipulated and pushed to the dashboard on a daily basis. SHRI’s partnership with Dalgo has allowed for us to automate this process. Now, the data on quality and use indicators that are collected daily are processed by the system that Dalgo co-created with SHRI and uploaded automatically at the same time every day. This is critical for several reasons. First, it ensures that SHRI’s staff gain timely insights into facility performance. They can make adjustments accordingly and can do so quickly as the data are being reported at the same time every day. Consistent access to facility-level data empowers facility staff and managers to observe patterns and identify and resolve issues. Second, this consistency builds trusts with outside partners, who can track facility performance without having to wait for someone to ‘push’ the information. Third, having an automated system is imperative as SHRI is about to scale its system to over 50 new facilities in Jharkhand. 

We started SHRI because we believe that every person in India has the right to safe and hygienic sanitation. While this is not a technological problem, we firmly believe that technology, when used well, can help us achieve this goal. Our collaboration with Dalgo is a testament to that ideal. 

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