Sanitation is a human right and everyone should have access to a toilet to ensure human dignity. The theme of World Toilet Day 2019 is "Toilets for All," which means leaving no one behind as the world strives to achieve universal access to sanitation.

 

11-year old Preethy from Bhola Bigha Village, in Bihar’s Nawada District, had to walk more than 2 kms every morning to defecate in the paddy fields. She had to wend her way through dark desolate marshy paths taking care not to be bitten by snakes. The journey was an ordeal and she wished that she had easy access to a toilet. It was in one of the children club meetings, the village volunteer spoke about the importance of toilets and the ill effects of open defecation. It was here, Preethy learnt that the cause of her frequent illnesses had a link to open defecation. She discussed with her family and managed to convince them on the importance of having a toilet at home. The family built a toilet availing the subsidy provided under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Preethy did not stop with just building one toilet, but campaigned in her village, and was instrumental in helping build 110 toilets. Today her village has been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) by the district administration. 

 

Preethy’s inspirational story is a classic example of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which ideates the ultimate sanitation win-win. It costs next to nothing to implement, is designed to quickly become self-sustaining, and promises to eradicate open defecation and directly addresses public health. Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), the global development goals, that India has signed up for,  talks about ensuring availability and sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030, and to achieve this- functional toilets are critical.

 

In India, the government has initiated a massive drive to build toilets across the country under the flagship program Swachh Bharat (Clean India) drive.  As per the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) reports, 10.11 crores of toilets have been built in the past five years making it one of the most laudable campaigns. On September 27, 2019 the government launched a 10-year national rural sanitation strategy to sustain India’s 100 per cent Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. Key components of this strategy are the ODF-plus and ODF-plus-plus missions – both of which focus on the implementation of solid, liquid waste and faecal sludge management in rural areas. It is encouraging to see states and cities stepping up to the challenge and committing resources—human and financial—to address the problem. 

 

We have made giant strides towards achieving universal access to this basic service, but we are still short of the sustainability element in achieving total sanitation.  Communities are grappling with availability of water to support bulk services, unfavourable topography and the need for alternative sanitation solutions (other than the flushing toilet). Encouraging toilet use and building infrastructure to manage solid and liquid waste in every village is paramount in achieving total sanitation. Effective faecal sludge management is a core public health issue and needs to be a key focus, as part of the sustainability of all the sanitation investment made so far. Public, private and other funders should come forward to invest in innovative sanitation systems. The Government should explore adopting latest international standards for non-sewered sanitation solutions; roll out incentives for generating useful byproducts from human waste and developing policies to channelize waste collection, which includes treatment plants. 

 

Preethy has shown how one individual can steer social change processes through Community-Led Sanitation Solutions and this momentum has to be backed with a strong political will, quality implementation to ensure safe and sustainable sanitation.

 

Mahesh Nathan,  Associate Director, WASH Initiatives- World Vision India


 This Op-ED was first published on November 14, 2019 in the online edition of  The Times of India  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/author/maheshnathan030/


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