Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Sanitation in India

“Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate mostly besides the railway tracks. But they also defecate on the beaches; they defecate on the hills; they defecate on the river banks; they defecate on the streets; they never look for cover.”
V.S. Naipaul
An Area of Darkness, 1964

Around 600 million people in India do not have access to toilets and are forced to relieve themselves in the open. In a decade from 2001 to 2011, percentage rural areas with no latrines have come down from 78.1% to 69.2% though, but still for every Indian to have an individual toilet at home, we have a very long way to go. Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the UNDP is extremely clear in presenting the utopia of a hygienic and completely sanitized world, as it quotes,

“Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 requires we invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities, and encourage hygiene at every level.”

But research evidence is that people defecate in the open in India because they don’t seem fine with changing their centuries-old manners. (Poverty is not the concern. Open defecation is widespread in
Haryana and Punjab also, where the well-off farmers even now relieve in the open.) The government and the administration deem that villagers don’t build/use toilets because they are excessively underprivileged. If it were so, the 2011 census wouldn’t have reported a higher share of households with TVs than toilets.


The Policies Adopted: Sanitation Policing

We have had a whole lot of policies constructing infrastructure in the country. The experience of community-driven, awareness-generating campaign based programs in some states and the results of evaluation of CRSP (Central Rural Sanitation Program), led to the formulation of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) approach in 1999. The strategy was to make the program 'community led' and 'people centered'. The funds brought in for the program were huge, but the result? Nil.

In 2010-11, fund releases for the program of TSC (including contributions from the Union Government, State Governments and beneficiaries) totaled to about Rs. 2170 crore. However, considering that about 640 million people in India defecate in the open (Figure 1), this worked to an allocation of only Rs. 34 (or about 70 cents per annum) to reach such people. (Source: Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi and UNICEF India)


Progression on the same path to develop sanitation in the country brought more programs in the line like Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). And the much talked about program at present, that is, Swachch Bharat Abhiyan (SBM or SBA). The tagline of Prime Minister Mr. Modi-led party “Pehle Shouchalay, Phir Devalaya”(Toilets before temples) was in the background of this colossal program.

But how viable are the solutions we found? How realistic and result-yielding did they prove to be? Despite the initiatives taken in the form of programs like TCS, the concept of sanitation and hygiene is yet to find a place in the mindsets of the people. Two years since the inception of SBM and yet only 23 districts have achieved the ODF status as of August 2016. Is the Budget allocation of Rs. 9000 crore feasible? (Budget 2016-17)


Why do we Need a Sanitation Policing?

Sanitation needs a very special attention in the present context. Just allocating huge funds won’t help. Sanitation is a catastrophic problem. We have a whole chain of unwanted anti-social events associated with the problem of sanitation:
  • Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. (WHO Report on Sanitation June 2015). Thanks to open defecation, around 14000 children have died of diarrhea in the past year in India. Around 1,000 children below the age of five die every day in India from diarrhoea, hepatitis-causing pathogens and other sanitation-related diseases, according to the report of United Nations Children’s Fund.
  • Absence of functional toilets is directly correlated to dropouts from schools. School Water and Sanitation Towards Health and Hygiene (SWASTHH) was  born to spearhead School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE) in the country. Again, results are almost negligible.

  • Women have it tougher. They don’t go outside in the day because they are embarrassed and most of them are afraid to go out in the night for the fear of being raped or molested.

  • There is no official data on such cases. And this is not just a national shame, but also a human tragedy.

What Sanitation Policing lacks?


It makes things complicated still. For all the huge funds we have created to boost the sanitation situation, a practical solution, is yet to be found. For any sanitation drive to be successful, it must include:


The Inspirational Neighbor

The model of Bangladesh’s sanitation drive seems to give a larger and better picture to counter open defecation. The “bottomless basket” that Bangladesh once was, achieved remarkable success when it came to sanitation. All thanks to the government’s Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach that was conceived by development consultant Kamal Kar in that country in 2000. Connecting the WASH( Water, sanitation and hygiene) issues to ICT, Bangladesh developed an app NCTF (National Child Task Force) Voice, providing information regarding the maintenance status of toilets, unavailability of clean drinking water, soaps, menstrual hygiene practices, established water lines, baskets for classroom and toilets, recruitment of WASH workers, etc. to the school management. 

Clubbing Sanitation with Three Gems



Initiatives which club the three gems in governance, that is, Digital India, Skill India, Right to Education and Local Governments with the sanitation problem are required in India too.
  • Apps allowing people to complain about unheeded hygiene in established infrastructure need to be developed clubbing the sanitation drive in India with the Digital India campaign. Clubbing ICT with sanitation might give it the modern drive to improve.
  • Skill India initiatives need to provide expertise to people who are currently involved in manual scavenging. This is threatening not only for their medical status but also for social stigma attached to the job. Better mechanized and skilled equipments need to be provided to the WASH workers who shouldn’t themselves be exposed to the hazards of health.
  • Local governments need to come up with innovative ideas creating awareness among the masses. Anganwadi workers are required to be more coercive yet convincing. They need to make people aware as to not just construct toilets but to use them too.
A country like India, diverse in its rural population, needs a very holistic approach for promoting the usage of toilets. People need to realize that just having toilets won’t suffice the need; we need an awareness drive like that of Bangladesh. There is an urgent need to radically transform people’s mindset from open-defecation to defecation in individual household latrines.


Way Ahead of Infrastructure

Once the toilets are completed, the main drive lies in motivating the rural citizens to use them.
  • The availability of proper drainage and water facilities is again a daunting task. Most of the toilets that are built already need a maintenance regularly which is almost absent. Be it either APL households too, the toilets have started being used as a storage go-downs or sometimes even as a shade for the cattle owned by the households.
  • The onus lies on the individual owners themselves to keep up the hygiene of the toilets constructed but little do they care as to what happens to these toilets built on the cost of the Government or even NGOs, for that sake. The latrines are being used as a disposable asset, where they are used up to the level when entering them becomes almost impossible due to the stink and dirt. M.K. Gandhi said, “Everyone must be his own scavenger”. Let’s work on this ideal of self-sufficiency.
  • People also use the outdoors because the existing toilets don’t have ventilation, electricity and not even a clear drainage facility. Both UNICEF and the WHO have been warning of a looming public health catastrophe in India, due to absent or meager sanitation in the villages.

The Rainbow of Sanitation Solution

Now here we need a rendezvous with the age old tradition of the Sapt (seven) Tradition of Indian mythology. The seven ways, Sapt Vichar or Rainbow of the sanitation issues lies in these solutions.

Making it a status symbol, signifying dignity like that of having a TV, might help. Just having a Swachch Bharat Mission won’t help achieve the zenith of our targets. There are a number of factors that need to be considered. Clubbed together, here are the 7 ways that would help achieve India what it lacks in WASH sector.



Solving Issues in Sanitation Policing
Currently, India is facing two kinds of problem in the WASH sector. Despite SBM funds disembarking from the Government as well as World Bank and the UNICEF, the problem persists.


  •  The first kind of problem exists in places that are yet to be made Open Defecation Free (ODF). These places are lagging behind in the basic infrastructure. They need government funds, plus the initiation by Local self governments to complete the constructions.
  •  The second kind of challenge exists in making people use these constructed assets as a place of daily relieving. The places already declared ODF are after all just on papers. The actual crux lies in making people utilize the construct toilets. For this, a very mass scale vigilance drive is required which will make people break the old age tradition of relieving in open.  A survey found that most people in North India considered relieving in open as part of a healthy morning ritual. In a documentary made by VPRO Metropolis, recording peoples’ view on open defecation in Mumbai, One of a person interviewed was very real in his answer when he said, “We dig a hole in the sand. And it will automatically fill with water because the water rises through sand. So we don’t have to bring water and that makes things a lot easier.”
  •  This kind of mindset needs to be changed. A morning follow up, done on a daily basis, making people shove aside these archaic practices need to be started. Both ASHA and USHA workers can come up with the task of generating knowledge and understanding among the masses.


In fact we need more educative initiatives like this one. An advertisement by UNICEF India saying “Take the poo to the loo”. 


However funny they might sound, they are the key to stop open defecation. Vidya Balan, the brand ambassador of the Indian government’s program for building household toilets gave the smartest ad for toilets. But is the message getting all the way through?

It is high time we start demanding sanitation as a fundamental right. Let’s just say then that instead of “Food Clothing Shelter” we need “Food Clothing Shelter & SANITATION”. That way, we won’t just combat health hazards, but the perils of poverty as well. And that’s the most important step for a developing country to enter into the era of development. So let us join our hands together (but of course after washing them!). Let’s come together and give everyone their share of health and hygiene. Let’s start making a change, because I think this outrage for sanitation issues is exactly like relieving, we can’t hold this any longer! 

You will never solve poverty, without solving water and sanitation.
Matt Damon
(Actor, Brand Ambassador of UNICEF, Philanthropist)

Author Name - Palak Sharma

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