5 City & State Government Leaders from Tamil Nadu working towards safe and inclusive sanitation featured in Frontline Stories of Resilience; serve as inspiration for resilient local leadership in achieving inclusive sanitation outcomes

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The national-level platform by NFSSM Alliance highlights the role of strong leadership from government bodies across India in ensuring resilient and sustainable sanitation service

Chennai, 28th September, 2022: National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (NFSSM) Alliance, a collaborative body that drives the discourse on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) forward in India, announced the launch of the second edition of ‘Frontline Stories of Resilience’ – a platform featuring Government officials as India’s Sanitation Champions. This platform is hosted as a website, and amplifies the crucial role and efforts local city and state leaders play in ensuring service delivery and safety of sanitation workers and vulnerable communities. This platform showcases the leadership of government officials in ensuring public service delivery, enabling cross-learning of leadership best practices and will act as an agent to inspire sector practitioners, organizations, and leaders from other cities and states to act towards achieving inclusive and sustainable sanitation outcomes.

Effective sanitation service delivery is crucial to move towards achieving SGD 6 and the role played by efficient and strong leadership is paramount in delivering and implementing safe sanitation services to the last mile. The objective of Frontline Stories is to amplify the personal motivations, leadership styles and innovative initiatives of leaders towards providing support in safeguarding physical safety, mental well-being, enabling dignified livelihoods of sanitation workers along with ensuring access and sustenance of essential public services to underserved communities. As part of the national level platform, five inspirational leaders from state and local government bodies of Tamil Nadu have been featured. 

Tamil Nadu is one of the leading Indian states who has pioneered effective service delivery for underserved communities, has successfully leveraged Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools in monitoring and sustaining services, and is on a championing journey towards a gender transformative approach in sanitation services. The state has ensured effective implementation of desludging programs, monitoring, construction of FSTPs and integrated gender intentionality across the value chain and is one of the first Indian states to move towards scaling a citywide inclusive sanitation approach. The state has also ensured social security for sanitation workers, implemented community-based operations, and incorporated menstrual hygiene management in sanitation planning. Addressing issues related to sanitation workers’ safety during COVID 19 was crucial aspect of ensuring the continuity of sanitation services in the state. The leaders from the state have admirably overcome these challenges and set benchmarks for ensuring the safety of sanitation workers during an unprecedented crisis– showcasing the importance of strong leadership to build resilient public service delivery.S.M Malaiman Thirumudikari Joint Director (Scheme), Directorate of Town Panchayats, Government of Tamil Nadu, who is  featured in the Frontline Stories, spoke about overcoming the challenges in sanitation to curb COVID cases, “As a Special Officer in Chengalpattu district during COVID 19 pandemic, my  team promptly recognized the need for sanitation and FSM as essential services, and

SOPs were created for the operation of Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTPs) and passed on to the ULBs and respective operators. A clear plan was laid out for targeted healthcare and sanitation-driven communication campaign for generating awareness among the masses. We, in Tamil Nadu, always believed that there should be an emphasis on empowering citizens by promoting citizen science, enhancing the role of locals in encouraging informed decision making.”

Some of the major challenges that the leaders worked diligently to resolve included implementing waste management in communities, and ensuring the provision of PPE kits, nutritious meals, and vaccinations for the safety of sanitation workers during COVID-19.

S. Amuthavalli (City Engineer, Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) City Corporation) and V. Tirupathi (Sanitation Inspector, Tiruchirappalli City Corporation) installed foot-operated hand washing stations in public spaces and relocated a high footfall marketplace into smaller spaces within the limit. While M. Kesavan, (Executive Officer, Karunguzhi Town Panchayat)  was instrumental in maintaining contact with the citizens through WhatsApp groups to consistently share information on health and resources from the government. They also conducted contests for children and families helping in creating awareness about sanitation.

Talking about managing various aspects of curbing the spread of COVID 19, M. Yazhini City Health Officer, Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) City Corporation, said, “A crucial preventive measure in controlling the spread of COVID-19 among low-income communities was to prioritize the proper functioning of community toilets. Another important step towards trying to contain the virus was the appropriate treatment of faecal sludge. To do that, I was able to obtain special permits for desludging vehicles and hence, the desludging operations continued to take place regularly. For sustaining these operations in a crisis, it is necessary to take complete care of the workers, and ensure their confidence and welfare ”

Ensuring safe sanitation for all in urban areas requires navigating complex social and economic realities of people. This requires a strong understanding of the local contexts and the role played by city & state leaders in working with communities. In light of crises such as COVID, when underlying issues in service delivery were exacerbated, leaders displayed foresight and clear planning in implementing solutions to safeguard the health and livelihoods in their communities further showcasing the critical role of strong city and state leadership.

Dr. Malini Reddy, Director WASH – South Asia, Athena Infonomics and  Lead of Communications Taskforce, NFSSM Alliance, further highlighted the importance of local leadership in delivering sustained public services in sanitation, “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted several instances where strong leadership played a critical role in building resilient cities and contributed to the journey of the nation’s development and well-being of its people. This is especially true in essential sectors like sanitation which safeguards the safety & dignity of all communities. “Frontline Stories of Resilience” is an acknowledgment of the efforts of city leaders who championed the cause of sanitation. With their vision and commitment, they have set inspiring precendents for service delivery with a human-centric, and  empathetic leadership approach.”

Frontline Stories are important as they capture the need for inclusion in decision-making across the sanitation value chain. A strong case is made in these narratives on nurturing and building strong local leaders and the impact they have within their communities. 

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