Economics · Governance · Law · Public Policy

Fixing India’s Sanitation Problems

“No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet,” Sylvia Burwell succinctly certified the importance of toilets and access to sanitation for our well-being in these words. Sanitation is nothing but preventing humans from coming in contact with wastes that are hazardous, thereby improving overall health standards. Hazardous/ toxic substances include human and animal faeces, agricultural and industrial wastes, etc.

The tough reality though, is that they have been able to reach only one third of the world. India is one of the biggest victims of lack of sanitation. Almost 2.2 million deaths occur in the world because of diseases related to sanitation. Diarrhea, one of the biggest killers that stems from lack of sanitation and open defecation, kills more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Over 99% rural households in Odisha don’t have toilet facilities at home. In states like Uttar Pradesh — which witnessed the dastardly rape and murder of two girls, when they had stepped out of their homes at night since there were no toilets at home — 65% of rural households still don’t have toilets at home. These shocking numbers are extracted from the Baseline Survey 2012 of the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation: Large states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan also have a huge gap in providing for toilet facilities at home.

The challenge is to build stable and accessible toilets that withstand the test of times and give every household a chance at a healthier life. The toilet delivery should be improved and they should be made more spacious, better ventilated and stronger. The focus should be on hiring more volunteers and community heroes who campaign the cause and take it up in a way that leaves an impact on the unaware minds.

What is needed: Most schools in rural areas do not have toilets for children, consequent upon which boys and girls feel ashamed of and experience difficulties. This, also, increases drop-out rates particularly of girl students. It is necessary that within five years of the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17) every school should have toilet facilities. Individual donors, financial institutions, insurance companies, corporate houses, business community, private companies, NRIs etc. can consider to provide toilet facilities in schools to supplement Government efforts. The school administration and teachers have a role to teach students to keep toilets neat and clean and to monitor and ensure that students do so. Students would feel enlightened to accept responsibilities by turns to maintain the toilets clean under the close supervision of teachers and class representatives. Number of toilets must be adequate to match the strength of students. The role of NGOs is very crucial in creating awareness and generating effective demand from rural households, planning and implementation of the program, follow-up etc. NGOs should have proven and demonstrated expertise and infrastructure. They need to be trained to implement the program. A comprehensive training program, inter alia, comprises requisite information, education, communication, implementation and follow-up etc.

Till toilet facilities are provided in each village of the country a village-wide campaign is necessary to make rural people fully aware of the adverse effects of open air defecation which is mainly responsible for infections and a number of diseases. A massive campaign, through employing all available means of communication, has to be launched to make all the people in a village including school children, youth and women fully aware of the fact that they should never go barefoot for open defecation; should always cover the human excreta with the soil after defecation so as to prevent flies sitting on excreta and, in turn, contaminating eatables as this is the main cause of diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera etc. Rural sanitation as a part of health should find appropriate place as the compulsory subject in primary schools.

The ultimate objective of the campaign should be to create demand for safe hygienic toilets and save women in particular from the agony and humiliation of open air defecation. Safe sanitation and clean water make the population healthier. There is no difference between health and sanitation as both are directly co-related with each other. Recognizing the outbreak of water-borne diseases like cholera, diarrhoea and cancer risks from arsenic in drinking water in several places, it is necessary to consider heath, water supply and sanitation as one sector rather than separate. For construction of toilets adequate number of masons have to be trained in the construction technology, methodology of implementation and follow-up work. Adequate number of pans and water seals of approved standard specifications and quality have to be made available at various centers so that people of the area can have easy and reliable access to the facility to construct toilets to suit their income and choice. In addition to health issues, poor sanitary measures set India back by billions of dollars every year. Illnesses are costly to families, and to the economy as a whole in terms of productivity losses and expenditures on medicines and health care.

The economic repercussions are also evident in other areas like fisheries and tourism which are also hit by water related problems. As per World Bank statistics India’s nominal GDP stands at 1.3 Trillion dollars and we are currently ranked 11th in the world on basis of nominal GDP. If we could cut down expenses incurred due to illnesses and lack of productivity due to illnesses, our economy would get the impetus it needs to flourish even more. This in turn would enable governmental agencies to improve sanitation standards and medical infrastructure which would in turn help improve living standards of people. Overcoming the demons of poor sanitation and addressing health issues arising out of the same will surely help us become a global superpower in a holistic sense. Nov. 19 is World Toilet Day, and as we approach that date, keep in mind how you can help children live healthier lives and fulfill their potential.

In health, there is freedom. Health is the first of all liberties. — Henri-Frederic Amiel

About the Author

Prachi JainPrachi Jain is a third year student pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from Mody University. Being a law student, she is interested in the political framework of different countries and likes reading on international issues. She loves blogging and runs her own blog. Besides that, she is very passionate about dance and is also associated with an NGO in Madhya Pradesh. Currently, she is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.

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