Building toilets a Herculean task

Building toilets a Herculean task

World Toilet Summit

Had it not been the launch of Swachh Bharat Campaign last year, something like a ‘World Toilet Summit’ wouldn’t have garnered the attention of ministers or corporates.

But it did when the ruling dispensation mentioned about investing Rs 52,000 crore in the next five years to ensure proper sanitation and cleanliness facility in the country. Interestingly, the endeavour directly aims at reducing the diarrhoeal deaths in the country. But is it possible?

Venkaiah Naidu, Minister for Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, who inaugurated the two-day summit put stress on three strategies that have been planned to implement Swachh Bharat campaign on full scale. “It is important to create awareness and change the mindset of the people. They might enjoy open defecation but they should be made aware of the evil side of it. It is because 40 per cent of the population is illiterate,” Naidu said.

Illiteracy compounded with open defecation contributes largely to diarrhoeal deaths in the country. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation contributes to 1.8 million deaths from diarrhoeal disease globally per year.

Naidu stressed 80 per cent of the diseases in India are water borne or through water contamination, hence it is imperative to adopt sanitation programs to keep these diseases in check. 

According to a statement released by the World Health Organisation last year on World Toilet Day, in 1990, only 25 per cent of the population of the South-East Asia Region had access to improved sanitation.

The countries in the region have put in immense efforts to meet the sanitation targets and by 2012, the proportion of the region’s population with access to improved sanitation had risen to 45 per cent. Open defecation has been reduced by 25 per cent across the region between 1990 and 2012.

A striking feature of sanitation coverage (and changes in coverage) is the inequity. The rich have much greater access in all areas, whilst 70 per cent of people without improved sanitation and 90 per cent of people practising open defecation live in rural areas. Communities with higher levels of education have better access to sanitation than illiterate ones.

Perhaps, the solution lies in building the infrastructure and introducing innovative toilets in both urban and rural areas. As per Naidu, a whooping amount of Rs 52,000 crore is required to ensure the success of campaign in next five years. Therefore, they are dependent on corporate to play their part. On this Nirankar Saxena, senior director, FICCI clarified that any solution to sanitation cannot be charity. “Corporate Social Responsibility cannot do the task alone. It has to be a social enterprise and business model has to be developed.”

Though several agencies are already working on building toilets, one of the government employees, present at the summit thrashed corporate representatives by mentioning that No Objection Certificates (NOC) are being issued to companies who have shown interest in building toilets in Delhi. But months have passed they haven’t done anything. “Above all there is no maintenance model of the toilets which have been constructed,” he said.

More so, Dr Mahesh Sharma, Minster of State for Tourism and Culture (Independent charge) said that it is not only the downtrodden people who suffer but ministers too had to bear the brunt when they campaign in the rural areas.

“I know somebody who during his rally held his urine for more than seven hours and when he landed in Delhi he had to visit a doctor.” Ironically, women in the country have to go through the same problem while travelling.