Scaling Sanitation after a Natural Disaster

In 2009, Hurricane Aila hit West Bengal, India with force, destroying homes with devastating amounts of flooding. In the Water For People district of Pratharpratima, the tiny island of Brajaballabpur was hit hard – and the hurricane took down sanitation infrastructure with it.

There was so much contamination from overflowing pit latrines that water-borne illness overtook the island’s population – the primary school even shut down because so many students were sick.

While the Jalabandhu, a group of mobile hand pump mechanics supported by Water For People, were working around the clock fixing water systems, husband and wife team Kamal and Sushma jumped into action, making sure their small materials and hardware shop was stocked with supplies for latrine construction and repair. They worked tirelessly, keeping their shop filled with all the sanitation supplies local families needed to prevent illness.

In part because of Kamal and Sushma’s shop, the island is now free of open defecation – Everyone uses a toilet. A local partner, the Sundarban Social Development Center (SSDC), has also launched local education campaigns in the schools and community to promote healthy practices around sanitation and hygiene, while also increasing the demand for sanitation products.

Through the SSDC, Kamal and Sushma were able to receive loans to bolster their business after the post-hurricane demand for sanitation supplies slowed down. While their shop still offers sanitation supplies, they have added inventory such as decorative tiles for bathrooms. Their business continues to thrive, allowing Kamal and Sushma to provide for their children.

Brajaballabpur Island is just one example of the scaling of sanitation throughout the Patharpratima district. When her husband mentions their region is at nearly 100% coverage in sanitation, Sushma’s face widens into a smile. They are proud to have played a role in helping their community rebuild after the hurricane and create a healthier future.

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