Generating evidence for community driven advocacy in Puruna Chhatrapur with Watershed
Located along the eastern coast of India, Puruna Chhatrapur village in Ganjam district of Odisha is home to about 600 fisherfolk families. The village adjoins Tampara Lake, one of the most important wetlands in the region. Severe stress over the years has had a devastating effect on the ecological balance of the region, resulting in water borne illness and a depleting fish population.
The Watershed programme is a five year strategic initiative of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) which aims to improve the management of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services by empowering civil society to lobby duty bearers. In Puruna Chhatrapur, Watershed supports rural communities in generating evidence about the status of WASH services so that they can advocate for better representation of their needs in village planning.
Above: WASH planning workshop in Puruna Chhatrapur village, 22 April 2018. Photo by Sidheswar Nayak.
Generating evidence about the status of WASH and water resource management (WRM) can empower rural communities to advocate for better representation of their needs in village planning and put forth their development agendas with district governments. However, information about WASH and WRM status, from functionality to maintenance, is dated and limited in villages, making needs-based planning and execution difficult. The Gram Panchayat  and civil society organisations (CSOs) also lack capacities to access or generate credible evidence, which is essential to influencing service delivery.
In 2016, when the Watershed India partners visited Puruna Chhatrapur village, they saw that village annual plans were being prepared and submitted with little or no consultation with the community. The plans hardly reflected ground realities and challenges, focusing mainly on hardware installations for water and sanitation. The villagers, especially the women and socially disadvantaged, bear the brunt of this on a daily basis.
 Gram Panchayat is the lowest grassroots unit of governance in rural India.
In 2016, the Watershed partners, alongside CSOs and local government representatives, held a series of meetings to review available data about WASH and WRM. Government records reported 90% coverage and 86% fully functional improved water sources for the district as a whole, which was obviously a mismatch for villages like Puruna Chhatrapur, where families were reeling under water stress. Together, the partners established the need to generate more information in order to elicit better WASH services.
Through a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) exercise in 2017, community groups in Puruna Chhatrapur village developed resource maps of their village with the facilitation of Watershed partners. These maps visualise the distribution of village water and sanitation assets as well as the condition of WASH infrastructure. This was followed up by a village-wide water point mapping of all drinking water sources and a household survey on key indicators for WASH and WRM. Community volunteers were trained in digital data collection using Akvo’s water quality testing and data collection platform.
The resource map developed by community members of Puruna Chhatrapur, 2017.
In the first three years of its presence, the Watershed programme has built capacities of locals and provided a platform for all stakeholders to come together, promote transparency about the planning process, and provide information about additional resources and how to access them.
The coordinated efforts of the CSOs and the local leaders began to bear positive outcomes by the third year of activity, including a consensus about the WASH priorities of the village, an increase in government funds, and the repair of handpumps and broken platforms. Using the evidence from the water quality survey, the government department sent out its own water testing team to validate the evidence shared by the Watershed team. The results of both tests matched and, since then, the government has intervened to track water quality in the village. Two handpumps that were found to be discharging contaminated water were declared unsafe and sealed by the department.