ASHWAS (A Survey of Household Water And Sanitation) is a participatory survey conducted by Arghyam to ascertain the status of household water and sanitation in rural Karnataka from a citizen perspective. In addition to being an acronym, the name ASHWAS was chosen because it also means "reassurance". In keeping with Arghyam's core philosophy of equity and sustainability, the survey takes a closer look at the factors that impact these two principles. These are some of the objectives of the survey:

The themes for the questionnaire were informed by concerns that have evolved through the actual work of Arghyam and its many partner organisations who have decades of experience between them. ASHWAS was conducted by more than 300 people over 40 days, between December 2008 and January 2009. The survey covered 17,200 households in 172 gram panchayats across 28 districts of the state of Karnataka. On an average, 100 households were surveyed in each gram panchayat. In addition, separate information was collected from gram panchayat officials and village elders.

A scientific method of sampling and data collection was adopted and many checks and balances were created to ensure a high degree of reliability. The methodology is explained later in the report. The ASHWAS survey comes at a time when civil society and policy makers are beginning to appreciate the positive impact of citizens' audits and assessments. It allows for a nuanced understanding of people's satisfaction levels about public services, their survival or coping strategies and the quality they can expect from public service providers. One special feature of this survey is that it was highly interactive. Villagers were encouraged to test the quality of the water being used from different sources. Water quality testing kits were provided which quickly delivered an indicative result on parameters such as nitrates, fluoride and bacteriological contamination.

The output from ASHWAS provides quantitative feedback on user perceptions of services, information on status, quality, adequacy, reliability and efficiency of water and sanitation services. It also highlights key areas where the solutions are clearly indicated in the definition of the problem itself, such as the issue of open defecation.

The output of the survey includes:

  1. Gram Panchayat Report custom made in Kannada for each sampled GP. The report card is designed for easy usage by both the gram panchayat officials and the village community. The report highlights issues specific to the GP and, where possible, suggests best practices and includes possible solutions.
  2. A State Report inclusive of reports on 28 districts intended for the use of district- and state-level governments, research institutions, advocacy organizations, and citizens of Karnataka. This complex year-long effort, the first such attempt by us has been a rich learning experience. Although surveys can achieve a limited amount, we hope that ASHWAS, if conducted on a regular basis with broad participation, will empower citizens, gram panchayats and the state-level administration to engage in a process of appropriate decision-making to enhance the access of safe, sustainable water and sanitation for all people across Karnataka.