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Building Community Toilets cannot counter open defecation in Rural India: WHO

The mere availability of government-built latrines will not end open defecation, we need awareness and education regarding this

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Children in slum in India. Wikimedia
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Sept 21, 2016: A new World Health Organisation (WHO) report concludes that more than half of the Indian population still “continue to defecate in gutters, behind bushes or in open water bodies, with no dignity or privacy”.

And how are we supposed to cure this?

Proper sanitation is a big threat to our health conditions that India’s politicians have tried tackling since ages. Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both promised to put an end to open defecation in their 2014 general election manifestos and kept this issue as one of the most important agendas in the election.

PM Narendra Modi, once said during his election campaign, “Toilets first, temples later”.

And the former rural development minister from Congress Jairam Ramesh had also asserted on the fact that, “practising good hygiene is as important as performing good puja” ( the act of worship in Hinduism).

Well, let’s have a look at the government sanitation policy to date for a moment.

Open defecation in India is catastrophic, when done in groups. Wikimedia Commons
Open defecation in India is catastrophic when done in groups. Wikimedia

For the past 15 years, two major campaigns are into action to eradicate the issue of poor sanitation in India: the Total Sanitation Campaign and the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. These two have been trying to improve sanitation predicament across the non-urban areas of India by building both household and community latrines, mentioned riceinstitute.org.

But despite all the efforts, there has been very slight change in our plight regarding open defecation. In fact, from 2001 to 2011, latrine coverage in rural India increased by about one percentage point each year. At this rate, it would take the concerned authorities almost 50 years to eliminate open defecation to an extent, if not completely.

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And hence, continuing with the same plan of action is, therefore, not going to help achieve the government’s goal.

According to riceinstitute.org, a broader matter of concern is public health. The issue of open defecation is catastrophic when practised by groups in close contact with each other. Because India’s population is huge, population density is alarming and growing rapidly hence it is impossible to keep human faeces from crops, wells, food, soil and children’s hands.

The ingested bacteria spread diseases, especially related to the intestine. They cause enteropathy, a chronic illness that prevents the body from absorbing calories and nutrients.

That helps to explain that in spite of rising incomes and better diets, rates of child malnourishment in India has not shown much improve.

UN’s agency for children, the UNICEF has estimated that nearly one-half of Indian children remain malnourished.

Pouring concrete will not solve India’s problems. Leaders and political organisations also need to confront the cultural and archaic reasons responsible for bad sanitation.

Eradicating open defecation from Indian society requires changing minds, not just allocating money to building latrines for people that will either go unused or not be built at all.

Under the current sanitation policy, there is a provision for Information, Education, and Communication, (IEC) but the spending on such activities is restricted to 15 percent of the whole budget signalling that it should be considered secondary to latrine construction.

Consequently, only six per cent of the total sanitation budget has been spent on IEC to date. Instead of capping the IEC budget, the government should be prioritising it, because awareness always helps.

Pieces of evidence show that India must urgently correct its cultural practices, though it is sensitive to say so. Apart from poverty and lack of lavatories, prioritising reasons often cited to explain open defecation in India is the innate cultural norm making the practice socially acceptable in some parts of the society. Researchers found that only a quarter of rural householders understood that washing hands help prevent diarrhoea.

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This suggests that the mere availability of government-built latrines will not end open defecation. The need of the hour is the public campaigns, in schools and in the media, to explain the hygienic and fiscal benefaction of using toilets.

A catchy animated music video put out by UNICEF urges Indians to “take the poo to the loo”. The intention is right, even if the dancing turds will not immediately be to everyone’s taste.

Such campaigns not only mean that government-built latrines will possess a better chance of being used; they would also encourage households to build them for themselves.

– prepared by Arya Sharan of NewsGram. Twitter: @NoOffense9

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Copyright 2016 NewsGram

  • Anubhuti Gupta

    The need for sanitation awareness is not taken up enough in our country although it is equally if not more important than other issues like education and such

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Child Rights Summit: Nations Should Spend More on Education Over Weapons

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child rights summit
Displaced Syrian children look out from their tents at Kelbit refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib province, Syria, Jan. 17, 2018. VOA

Countries should spend more on schooling and less on weapons to ensure that children affected by war get an education, a child rights summit heard Monday.

The gathering in Jordan was told that a common thread of war was its devastating impact in keeping children out of school.

Indian Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who founded the summit, said ensuring all children around the world received a primary and secondary education would cost another $40 billion annually — about a week’s worth of global military expenditure.

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child rights summit
Nobel Peace Prize laureates Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai listen to speeches during the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo, Dec. 10, 2014. VOA

“We have to choose whether we have to produce guns and bullets, or we have to produce books and pencils to our children,” he told the second Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit that gathers world leaders and Nobel laureates.

Global military expenditure reached almost $1.7 trillion in 2016, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said last year 27 million children were out of school in conflict zones.

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“We want safe schools, we want safe homes, we want safe countries, we want a safe world,” said Satyarthi, who shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai for his work with children.

Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein told the summit, which focused on child refugees and migrants affected by war and natural disasters, that education was “key,” especially for “children on the move.”

“Education can be expensive, but never remotely as close to what is being spent on weapons. … They [children] are today’s hope for a better future,” he told the two-day summit.

Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a nonprofit group, described the number of Syrian refugees not in school in the Middle East as “shocking” as the war enters its eighth year.

Kennedy cited a report being released Tuesday by the KidsRights Foundation, an international children’s rights group, which found 40 percent of school-aged Syrian children living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq cannot access education. VOA