India’s plumbing challenges answered

India’s plumbing challenges answered

By Mike Flenniken at IAPMO

In the spirit of the sharing of unique experiences that shape the plumbing industries in our respective nations, the following article looks at International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH) efforts to improve sanitation facilities in Indian villages. This is the next in a regular series of similar articles that will feature in this magazine.

Looking to build on the success of the 2015 Community Plumbing Challenge in Nashik, India, the IWSH — IAPMO Group’s charitable foundation — is collaborating with the Indian government to renovate sanitation facilities in village schools while also providing valuable plumbing experience to young students.

IAPMO Russ India webStudents practice a toilet installation.
Image credit: IAPMO India

IWSH recently sponsored the construction of a full girls’ bathroom at the Government Higher Secondary School in Palayad, Kollam, located in southern India. Swathi Saralaya, manager of Technical & Training for IAPMO India, said school officials approached IWSH about converting the small, unused room adjacent to the girls’ toilet facility.

The school previously only had 13 toilet units for 500 students and 22 staff members, and relied on well water — which tended to dry out during the summer — for its water supply for all purposes.

The work on the girls’ facility was completed by 23 students aged 17 and older, who are part of the Kerala government’s State Skill Development Project, whose goal is to equip its young population with the skills necessary to work in a variety of innovative sectors to deal with the state’s unemployment problem. The project includes both the Additional Skill Acquisition Programme (ASAP) and the Additional Skill Enhancement Programme.

As part of ASAP, IAPMO India provides an ‘assistant plumber’ training course, which more than 1 600 students have taken since 2013. The course is offered at government schools known as ‘skill development centres’, which are spread throughout Kerala. Once the students have taken 150 hours of theory and practical training, they are sent to various sites for a 150-hour internship.

Under the supervision of Rajan Tharal, IAPMO India’s trainer, assistant plumber students have already repaired the flushing system for the urinals in the boys’ bathroom, and installed a water supply to the boys’ bathroom using the school’s PTA funds.

Unlike the United States, plumbers in India are not required to be certified and plumbing installations do not have to follow a particular code, Saralaya said. “If I am self-employed as a plumber, no one is going to inspect my installation or look what I have done,” she said. “There is the National Building Code of India, there is the Uniform Plumbing Code of India, but there is no government mandate as such that, ‘OK, you need to follow particular guidelines.’ There isn’t something like that in India, and that’s where it’s affecting the whole industry. IAPMO India’s programmes continue to address this issue and use the Uniform Plumbing Code as a reference in an attempt to standardise the process as much as possible in these rural regions and across India as a whole.”

In Kerala, where many of the skill development centres are remotely located, it is common to find plumbers who have taken up plumbing as their career from ancestors and/or have learned by just working with local construction people. As a result, standard installation procedures are not prevalent, Saralaya said.

“That is the main aim of IAPMO India and the Indian plumbing industry: bringing quality plumbers to the construction industry,” she said.

IWSH managing director Megan Lehtonen said the organisation is committed to training community members and setting up the infrastructure to ensure that the training continues and the projects are maintained and replicated throughout the region.

“IWSH continues to focus on supply chain solutions to build the necessary conduit between the great work being done to enhance WASH facilities throughout India and the trained manpower to maintain it by upskilling the local workforce to provide the labour needed to ensure the projects can be locally maintained,” she said. “This will also allow us to continue this important work in other communities.”

Saralaya said IAPMO India saw an opportunity to get involved following the Community Plumbing Challenge 2015 in Nashik. The schools were having a difficult time finding enough internships for students, due in large part to how remote many of the skill development centres are, she said, and even when they would find a construction site, there frequently would be no plumbing installation work occurring when the internship was required.

Saralaya said they approached the government of Kerala and the ASAP team about building/improving sanitation facilities at schools in India, much as the teams did for the CPC2015 in Nashik.

The Community Plumbing Challenge was conducted in a government school similar to the one in Kerala. Saralaya said that IAPMO international project managers Grant Stewart and Sean Kearney visited 25–30 schools in India to determine the site of the CPC, and found conditions similar to that of the Kerala school.

“In India, the government schools’ toilet facilities are so inefficient,” Saralaya said. “Either they are completely non-utilised (not used at all), or they have issues like being clogged or blocked, and there is no person to maintain it. When we surveyed some of the schools, we came to know that these are the places where we can utilise our students to carry on the installations to do the corrections required to maintain them, or renew the facilities available there.”

Saralaya said the student involvement in the project has multiple benefits. “It gives a good experience for the student and it’s something to be proud of,” she said. “For the student who is working somewhere in the old centre, at an old school, it becomes a matter of pride to him that he’s innovating and helping his own school build a new toilet and maintain it.”

Government agencies and private organisations that are interested in supporting ASAP projects, such as upgrading toilet facilities at skill development centres, are encouraged to do so by contributing towards the cost of materials. Upgrading toilet facilities at skill development centres would not only address the need for additional internships, but it would be a significant contribution towards the government’s Swacch Bharat Abhiyan campaign goal of eliminating open defecation in the country, providing a model that may be replicated across India. IWSH has also proposed a half-day programme designed towards educating schoolchildren about the importance of sanitation and hygiene.

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