Curbing open defecation
By: Vinod Chandrashekhar Dixit
Open defecation is a national shame and India tops in number of people who still adhere to the practice despite several attempts by the authorities to end this menace. Open defecation in India is a grave issue and needs to be addressed on top priority.
According to UN report prompting the Government to admit it as a “huge shame”, India still has the largest number of people defecating in open in the world. Report of WHO and the UNICEF say 597 million people practice open defecation in India.
No doubt, most of the people who defecate in open, lack awareness about sanitation. But apart from this, the single major factor which forces people to defecate in open is poverty. One in three people, or 2.3 billion people worldwide, have to share a toilet with multiple families in a community.
Open defecation poses a serious threat to the health of children in India. It exposes women to the danger of physical attacks and encounters such as snake bites. According to the UN, countries where open defecation is most widely practiced have the highest number of deaths of children under the age of five, as well as high levels of under-nutrition, high levels of poverty and large disparities between the rich and poor.
No country in the world has more open defecation than India, where one in two people defecate outside. Every year, 200,000 children in India die from diseases caused by fecal contamination.
Although toilets were built, without adequate motivation to use them, village people often continued to adhere to centuries-old practices, and abandoned the new toilets or put them to alternative uses. In fact there is still a traditional thought that the presence of toilets in the compound makes the later impure.
Educated or uneducated, people in rural areas, for want of indoor plumbing use open space for defecating. There are some people who think that open defecation is more hygienic and having an indoor toilet is dirty and filthy.
Improving sanitation in the villages has proved to be one of India’s greatest development challenges. One of the main challenges faced in the drive to eliminate open defecation is the inadequate human resource base for sanitation. While leading a non-violent movement for India’s independence from the British in 1947, Gandhi spoke about the need to improve hygiene and cleanliness in the country. “Sanitation is more important than political independence,” he said.
It is a shame that 70 years after independence and India is still in such a state, where people have no knowledge, no resources to maintain a minimal level of hygiene. It’s not that all those 60% people who don’t use toilet are not financially able to construct toilets in their homes, actually many of them posses TV, cooler, motorcycles and many other accessories but don’t feel the need to have a toilet inside their compound.
No doubt. , access to sanitation in rural India is improving, the increase is not equitable. Open defecation is still almost universal among the poorest 20 per cent of the population. We need a grass root campaign on how many diseases can be avoided by basic cleanliness and how spending on toilets is as important as developing other infrastructure.
Whatever welfare measures taken so far by the government has not reached fully to the masses. We don’t need to build new temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras etc. Public toilets with good water facility are the need of the hour.
In a country like India it is very difficult and takes a long time to change the practice of open defecation in rural areas. Most of the toilets which are started for public use are being neglected by the people due to improper maintenance. It is the matter of hygiene that can attract more people to use toilet.
The implementation of toilet system can be carried out in a phased manner with prior creation of awareness through media. It is not that the government is only responsible for ensuring all the good things. People have to take responsibility for their own well being as well.
(The author hails from Jodhpur Tekra, Ahmedabad)