The Alappuzha Municipality has 50 wards and 32,203 households spread over 47 square kilometres. With only about 50% of the 65 to 75 tonnes of waste generated every day being transported to the adjacent dumping yard in the Panchayat area, the remaining waste spilled over into the beautiful ancient Venice like canal system of the town converting it into one of the most insanitary towns in the state. The Municipal Council and Socio Economic Unit Foundation (an NGO) got into a partnership and initiated an Action Research Programme called, Women, Well-being, Work, Waste & Sanitation (4 W&S). A baseline survey indicated that only 10% households segregate waste; 58% burn their waste; while 16% threw it into their backyards and 15% resorted to dumping it in public places. Thus the challenge was quantified. Technical Committees and Popular Committees were set up and a strategy of participatory social engineering was employed.
The elements of the programme included reduction at source; segregation at source; collection and sale of recyclables; household level processing of organic waste; substitution of plastic bags with cloth and paper bags and community policing to prevent people from violating the code of clean surroundings. In a short span of time, 3,350 households started vermi-composting. In 35 places common vermi-compost units were set up. Nearly 2,000 families started organic farming in their compounds. Three paper bag units have been started along with two plant nurseries. Through public action 8 kms of canals and 12 ponds have been cleaned and rejuvenated.
In a rural village situation
Chunakkara is a backward village Panchayat of Alappuzha district with 14 wards covering 5,411 households within an area of 17.32 square kilometres. Management of solid waste emerged as a major problem with waste piling up in all public places inviting protest from the public. The water bodies were polluted and the canals became clogged. A trained resource group called the Programme Support Group (PSG) was set up. The PSG went out and involved the community by forming Ward Committees and Panchayat Committees to build intensive awareness and community education. These popular committees played an important role in mobilizing the public and converting their enthusiasm into action.
Now Chunakkara has become a model for decentralized waste management in the rural areas. Out of the 5,411 households, 4,980 have started vermi-composting in the compound and the manure is used to feed kitchen gardens, which have been set up in all the houses. All schools have been motivated to segregate, store and process waste in-situ. A community level vermi-compost plant has been set up to deal with market waste. Chunakkara Village Panchayat is proud of its achievements and presents a model of Panchayat, Professional, People partnership. The Alappuzha experiment has shown that through social engineering involving committed professionals and elected leaders, in both rural or even urban settings, community behaviour can be changed for the better.