Studies of United Nations Children’s Emergency Funds and World Health Organization have estimated that every US $1 spent on sanitation is equal to a return of $ 5.50 by means of improving public health and productivity. This data is clearly indicative of the importance of an open defecation free society, which acts as the prime parameter to assess the degree of sanitation in any country.
The 2014 report Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation revealed that India had five hundred and ninety four million people practicing open defecation, the highest in the entire world. The same report also pointed out that India was not among those countries which were showing great results in overcoming open defecation. The National Sample Survey Report of 2015 also bears some unfortunate news for the country in terms of sanitation practices, especially in rural areas. The report states that more than half of the rural population is still practicing open defecation. The urban-rural gap is also very huge. The states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha have sanitary toilets in 18.8%, 21.2% and 26.3% households, respectively.
These numbers become an issue when they translate into increases in the number of deaths of children under the age of five, increasing gap between the rich and the poor, increasing levels of malnutrition, and so on. The greatest problem that poor sanitation poses is the violence that females are met with when they are forced to defecate in the open. So many times, it is due to the lack of proper toilets that girls are forced to drop out of schools.
Despite the poor status of sanitation in India one cannot ignore the efforts of the government that have been in place since 1986, with the beginning of the “Total Sanitation Program.” This was an umbrella program that aimed to improve, personal hygiene, excreta disposal, waste water disposal, home sanitation, etc. This eventually transformed in the “Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.” Another program launched by the government in year 2014 was the “Swachh Bharat Mission.”
NDTV reports that on account of consistent efforts by the government, as many as 1.63 lakh villages have acquired the title of being “Open Defecation Free”. The states of Harayana, Gujarat and Mizoram have already become 100% free in terms of open defecation.
Despite improvements, India remains in a sad state in terms of sanitation. A potential argument could be that the steps taken by the governments are not enough. But when one looks at the number of steps take by the government, this argument seems weak.
India needs to shift its focus towards shaping the attitudes of its population. Often, the people are simply not ready to make toilets in their houses. In many more cases, the households do make toilets to avail government incentives, but those toilets remain unused. The problem of poor sanitation in India is not only restricted unavailability of funds or resources. The problem is also attributable to the backward mindset of certain people.
Combating open defecation in India is not just fight only against poverty, but also a fight against the prevalent mindset. It is indeed a question of how well the people receive the whole concept of sanitation on which India’s growth is dependent.
-Contributed by Richa Bhatt
Picture Credits: thewire.in