One of the deterrents that could prolong or possibly halt our dream of becoming a “developed” nation in the coming years is the lack of health and hygiene and the absence of widespread ground-level actions. It is this lacking that is also responsible for widening and retaining the gap between the wealthy in a clean surrounding and the poor in a city slum, the urban formal settlements and the urban informal settlements, in our country. Proper sanitation has a crucial role to play in bridging this gap as it is directly linked to the physical health and subsequent well-being of the people living in that area. In India the practice of open defecation is still prevalent both in urban settlements and rural areas. India has the world’s largest number of people defecating in the open (around 600 million in 2012) which includes approximately 70% of its rural population. This figure is particularly alarming because open defecation has a much more adverse effect on a densely populated country such as ours. It causes and spreads diseases like diarrhea, typhoid and intestinal infections, etc., and is responsible for increasing child mortality. Other far-reaching effects include fatality, undernutrition and stunted growth in children, loss of dignity for women and increased rates of crime against women as they are forced to go out in the open in secluded areas, river pollution and soil pollution.
Government initiatives such as Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CSRP) and Total Sanitation Campaign (Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan) have achieved limited success in their terms. Even though government surpassed its own target of building 6 million toilets by constructing 8 million toilets in 2015-2016, sanitation largely still remains a widespread problem in India. This calls for participation of more private companies as well as common people to end this problem. Two of the major reasons for people still practicing open defecation are non-availability of toilets because of poverty and “behavioral mindset” of the people who still do not realize the importance and interlink between water, sanitation and hygiene. While the former can be tackled by providing more and more infrastructure for toilets, the latter requires creating awareness among the people about this evil practice and change in their mindset, who are still traditionally bound to defecate in the open air.
Sanitation projects in a populated country like India require participation of people to be popular and successful. Integrating the two approaches of simultaneously building infrastructure and creating awareness among people can help in making Indian villages and slums “open defecation free”. Providing sustainable sanitation facilities by incorporating affordable toilets which are easy to use and clean, strong and all-weather resistant, building toilets inside or in very close vicinity of households can help eradicate open defecation. Building easy-to-use toilets integrated with a composter will prevent spread of diseases, water and soil pollution. Designing mobile toilets, toilets with an in-built alarm system for women, toilets with provision for urine diversion and providing recyclable toilet bags for people in remote areas can also be effective in reinventing the sanitation project in our country. Another aspect of the sanitation project is to teach people about the importance and necessity of maintaining hygiene in their surrounding through audiovisual presentations, as spread of diseases is more prominent in a densely populated area lacking awareness. Encouraging people, providing more incentives and awarding households for installing toilets, even if on a time-bound basis, will increase the participation of people as well as popularity of these projects. Educating women and school going children in rural areas about the benefits of cleanliness and its healthy impact on mental and physical well-being will cause awareness among the rural masses.
The objective of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) to make India open-defecation free by 2019 can be achieved if we are willing to engage ourselves to contribute our part to tackle the sanitation problem. With all these efforts it will be a matter of time when every Indian truly experiences that “Cleanliness is Godliness”.