(The Gist of Kurukshetra) SANITATION: THE JOURNEY SO FAR [JANUARY-2019]


(The Gist of Kurukshetra) Sanitation: The Journey So Far

[JANUARY-2019]


Sanitation: The Journey So Far

The present Government’s initiative in sanitation has been hailed by the political leaders as remarkable with the resolve to make the country “open defecation free” by October 2, 2019 – a promise made by the Prime Minister just after assumption of office. The latest statistics reveal that the coverage of toilets has zoomed to 93 percent by the end of September 2018.

According to reports in the last three years, about 50 million toilets have been constructed in rural India and 3.8 million in cities and towns. Moreover 2.48 lakh villages, 203 districts and five states – Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Haryana – are now open defecation free. And it is envisaged that 450 districts in 20 states and union territories would  shortly be open defecation free. In fact, surveys undertaken show that 85 percent of toilets built under Swachh Bharat Mission are being used. Some of the states have been quite efficient in constructing toilets in the countryside. As percent the national plan.

It may be pertinent here to mention that the date of October 2 was fixed keeping in view the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi always talked of a communication approach to life and living and preserving the local environment clean and healthy was the cornerstone of his approach to make life liveable among the masses. In fact, cleanliness was advocated by him which meant keeping not just one’s house but also the neighborhood clean.

Though it is understood that 53 million toilets have been built in rural areas in the three years since the launch of Swachh Bharat, the report further pointed out, and quite rightly that “eliminating open defecation is not only about building latrines but requires adequate methods for behavioural change and sufficient water supply is a pre-requisite for the sustainable and safe use of adequate, low-cost latrines”.

The benefits of sanitation cannot be doubted. Re 1 invested in improving sanitation helps save Rs. 4.30, according to a recent study by UNICEF, which was done to estimate the cost of benefits of government’s Swachh Bharat Mission. Sharing the findings of an independent survey carried out across 10,000 rural households randomly selected across 12 states, chief of wash (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) UNICEF India said: “in a fully open defecation free (ODF) community, considering medical costs averted, the value of time savings and for each household is Rs.
50,000 per year”.

The study of UNICEF, found the financial savings due to improved sanitation resulted in a cost benefit ratio of 430 percent on average; this means that Rs. 3 invested allows a saving of Rs. 4.3”. Whatever be the usage, the benefits are obviously the highest among poor sections of the population. The UN agency has also observed that beyond the Hundreds of thousands of toilets being built, “a genuine prioritization of behaviour change interventions is taking place”.

A major thrust has been given to the sanitation sector as also, to some extent, to the water sector. Now around 70 percent of the urban population has access to sanitation that is, safe disposal of human excreta while in rural areas the earlier figure of a mere just 20 percent, obviously due to the special thrust provided by the present government. Presently, over 55, to 60 percent of households in the country have access to sanitation facilities.

This aspect needs to be given special attention and the government’s program called the Rashtriya Swachh Ganga Mission (National Clean Ganga Mission) of cleaning the Ganga River and setting up treatment plants in the major towns to ensure that the river is not polluted may be positive steps, if action proceeds according to targets set. Similar action needs to be taken for the Yamuna River.

The government has, no doubt, come forward in a big way by providing necessary financial resources, demonstrating its political will and commitment. The private sector should also play an active role in constructing toilets in schools and educational institutions in villages and also ensure that there is water availability in these toilets. The creation of a totally sanitized environment, which has already started with the blessings of the prime minister, can become a reality not just through dedicated action of the government, but also of the private sector through active involvement of the community. ‘Swachhata Hi Seva ‘campaign was also launched to make people feel that the work of cleanliness is a service to the community. While resources are, no doubt, essential, claims only cannot yield desired results as this has to become a people’s campaign. Moreover, adequate water supply has to be taken care of as sanitation and water go hand in hand. If things are carefully planned and executed, the face of the country may change if we care for our neighbourhood and cleanliness.

At this juncture, there is need for a program of epidemiological research on environmental health impacts in the country related to water and sanitation, soil and ecology in order to create proper understanding.

The thinking and philosophy of Gandhiji would be achieved if the Swachh Bharat Program realizes the desired targets but the challenge would be to generate awareness, in a big way. There has been spectacular progress since the last 5 years, thereby fulfilling the targets but the challenge would be to generate awareness, in a big way. There has been spectacular progress since the last 5 years, to the remotest village and realizing a significant facet of Gandhian vision.

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