Open defecation remains a problem in India even as Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) approaches its 2nd anniversary.
Open defecation remains rampant in India with United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund(UNICEF) deeming the country as having the largest number of people practicing open defecation in the world, at more than 564 million in 2015. One in two people are estimated to be using a toilet in the country, which is why as an attempt to tackle the serious issue, the Government of India has collaborated with the likes of UNICEF. This is targeted to make India ’Open Defecation Free’ by 2019 in line with the Sustainable Development agenda of the UN, with UNICEF India as an important partner to achieve this target through the SBM. SBM was launched on 2nd October in 2014 with urban and rural sanitation, waste management and cleanliness in focus. Unofficial reports estimate the inadequate numbers in reaching target goals, with just 141 of the total 4,041 cities and less than a sixth of the total 608,000 villages having the capacity of been declared as ODF.
As an SBM ambassador in India, the famous cricketer Sachin Tendulkar released a video that was shared on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s twitter handle, advocating for the future of India where everyone uses a toilet.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 26, 2016
Swachta Status Report released official reports for 2016 by the National Sample Survey Office, under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, earlier this year. Under the urban mission of the SBM, an initial announcement in 2014 stated that by October 2019 a total of 10.4 million individual household toilets will be constructed. With around 35,216 odd public seats built according to the report only about 14 pc of the target of 255,000 public toilets for the five-year mission period. The rural situation remains inadequately addressed as well. “Out of the 3,788 villages surveyed, 13.1 pc villages in India were found to have community toilets,” stated the report, adding, “Out of the sample villages, at an all-India level, 1.7 pc villages were found to be having the community toilets but not using them.”
One of the factors of behavioural attitude remains, as UNICEF and other reports point out. The cultural practice of open defecation is still followed and building toilets needs to be supplemented by the promotion of their use. Ministry officials agree that this remains among the biggest challenges.
Women at risk
The health risks associated to open defecation are related to it resulting in the lack of hygiene. Contamination of the environment can result in transmission of a host of diseases and women and children are particularly vulnerable, especially in the low income groups, as pointed out by a report by WaterAid.
Apart from health-related problems, open defecation is dangerous to the women of India in other ways. Lack of privacy and unsafe public spaces adds insecurity for women, particularly in rural areas. In 2014, the rape and consequent hanging on the tree of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh in India brought this factor to the fore. Initiatives that were launched a few years ago, such as the No Toilet No bride campaign in Haryana in North India, may seem like innovative solutions but speak volumes about how access to toilets is a major issue for women.Women have also been taking measures on their own to deal with a problem that is an issue of hygine as well as hygiene.
— PIB India (@PIB_India) September 28, 2016
However, with states such as Kerala in southern India and Himachal Pradesh in northern India declaring their districts as ODF and Telengana in southern India joining the list as well, there seems to be some gradual improvement of the situation.