Assistant News Editor
Clean running water is easily taken for granted. In the U.S., we expect clean water to come from our faucets and showers. But this isn’t always the case elsewhere.
In West Bengal, India, clean water is recognized with much more importance. Districts in the state of West Bengal, like Malda, struggle ecologically and economically. There, eroded river banks have led to the loss of homes for thousands. In an effort to relieve the community from hardships, non-governmental organizations have invested in programs like Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. These investments have increased awareness of sanitation and more access to clean water.
Linda Hall presented a co-authored paper during the 10th Annual Global Water Alliance Conference at the U.S. embassy in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. The paper by Hall, Jayanti Bandyopadhyay of Salem State University and Arun Deb of the University of Pennsylvania explains the economic and social impacts of WASH and women empowerment.
Hall, a business professor at Fredonia, became involved in WASH and Indian research through a friend and research associate, Bandyopadhyay. Through Bandyopadhyay, Hall met Deb, who has connections to NGOs in West Bengal.
“We are all committed to helping improve the lives of the extreme poor in West Bengal through WASH and women’s empowerment programs,” said Hall.
The conference included two days of presentations and two days of field trips to WASH project sites. More than 200 people attended the conference including some from the U.S., India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Madagascar, China and Nigeria.
“The focus of many of the presentations is that although water, sanitation and hygiene are necessary building blocks to improve the lives of the extreme poor, cultural and economic barriers must be overcome,” Hall explained.
Two NGOs that Hall and her colleagues visited, surveyed and continue to study are Sabuj Sangha and Nishtha. According to Hall, “both of these organizations provide women empowerment programs that focus on encouraging and enabling women to generate their own income and become empowered socially and economically.”
Sabuj Sangha’s mission is create self-help groups and to provide micro-financing approaches while promoting gender equality.
One of Sabuj Sangha’s projects, Nayantara, is raising money to help keep children (particularly girls) enrolled in school.
At sabujsangha.org, the organization explains that “adolescent girls in particular are more vulnerable to being trafficked and eventually [brought into] the sex trade. The girls are compelled to get into the trap of early marriage and then become the mother of two / three children at such an early age. As a result, they remain with poor health conditions.”
Nishtha, which means “devotion” in Bengali, also works to encourage gender equality.
The director of Nishtha, Mina Das, said Nishtha encompasses more than 250 villages. “Nishtha runs five health clinics and three schools, including one school for the children of sex workers in the red light district of Kolkata,” said Das.
The paper Hall and her colleagues presented was titled “Exploring the Impact of Investment in WASH and Women’s Empowerment NGOs in West Bengal, India.”
Hall said that their research “provides relevant stakeholders with meaningful accounting and financial training, tools and practices to increase return on investment.”
The paper acknowledged that WASH and the mentioned NGO programs have boosted higher education levels and income. The programs have also led to women marrying at later ages and a greater understanding of the importance of these NGO programs.
Based on original research with Bandyopadhyay, Hall has submitted a paper for publication. She is now working on a second paper that addresses social accounting and performance measurement in NGOs.
Hall said that she “can see this work continuing for the next five years and beyond, as we follow the progress of some of our survey respondents and programs studied.”