Sustainable Sanitation To Pave The Road Towards A Cleaner And Healthier India

To meet the basic requirements for a sustainable sanitation system, communities need support to have toilets in a safe and accessible setting with access to clean water.

World Toilet Day 2020

India as a nation has advanced in its effort towards minimization of open defecation.  As per a UNICEF report, by 2019 the number of people without access to toilets had reduced significantly by an estimated 450 million people.  Government programs like Swacch Bharat Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation of Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and Smart City Mission have played an important role in addressing the gaps in access to proper sanitation facilities across the country.  There has also been positive momentum in the involvement of the private and public sectors in providing sustainable solutions to sanitation challenges in India.

To meet the basic requirements for a sustainable sanitation system, communities need support to have toilets in a safe and accessible setting with access to clean water. Without proper systems in place, individuals are left to seek out and walk for miles just to gain access to clean water and usable toilets.  Apart from the lack of toilets, it is very important to change the deep-rooted habit of relieving themselves in public which has been propagated across generations in most of the rural and tribal communities.  it is equally important to educate the people about the dangers of unsanitary practices and enable behavioral changes to sustain positive hygiene culture. With improved facilities and awareness, economic benefits can follow suit including reductions in medical costs and mortality associated with infectious diseases due to poor sanitation. The task of making the entire nation open defecation free is large and complex, presenting a multi-dimensional challenge with social, cultural, economic aspects.  Changing centuries-old habits of open defecation is a long-term undertaking.

Women and children are most affected, due to the lack of sanitation facilities including clean and safe toilets in the rural communities. It leads to several health issues amongst girl children, due to which they cannot attend school and often face the risk of water-borne and sanitation-related diseases. Additionally, they also have to face the vulnerability of physical assault, as a consequence of open defecation.   Equal and ready access to toilets can help prevent premature deaths, thus helping wage-earners live longer. Communities can continue to prosper with social benefits such as physical safety, privacy, and comfort. Through this practice, children are exposed to contagions that leads to nearly 100,000 diarrhoeal deaths of children under five years. The risk of spreading diarrhea, COVID-19, cholera or typhoid is also driven by the absence of clean water and handwashing facilities across homes and communities. 

Enhancing quality of life through sustained sanitation

Tackling a global sanitation crisis starts with intervention in local communities. Communities need to come together and ensure clean water and sanitation is made available for all.  As the Government has made waves with its national Swachh Bharat Mission, it is equally important for corporates to play a helping hand through trusts and CSR-led initiatives. The experience, knowledge, and resources of the private sector can help deliver truly impactful solutions that could bring safe sanitation to hundreds of millions of households.  They need to actively contribute in developing sustainable foundations for sanitation that are in harmony with the environment as well as educate individuals on the hazards of open defecation, to bring in the behavioral shift to eradicate open defecation.

The social arm of a leading two-wheeler manufacturer, as an example, has continued its efforts to create awareness of personal hygiene through support via education on the importance of using toilet facilitates and construction of toilets to support 470 students at a Government Girls High school located in Cheranmahadevi, Tamil Nadu. These female students were faced with pressing health concerns and feelings of discomfort due to insufficient toilet facilities available in the school. The trust successfully mitigated these issues by constructing 14 new toilets that enabled students to have improved personal hygiene and make them far more comfortable in the school environment. Similarly, there were parent-teacher meetings held with the community for awareness on toilet hygiene. Not only did parents understand the importance of having a good sanitation system, but more students were actively taking control of ensuring sanitation practices were followed. Such initiatives have also contributed to better nutrition, improved the school attendance and cognitive abilities of children ensuring a cleaner and healthier future for them. In the last five years, the corporate trust has repaired, renovated, and constructed toilets for 277 schools and 127 Anganwadis in 3 states, namely Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh.

For India to contribute and support the world-wide objective of global sanitation for all by 2030, members of the community must prioritize efforts and strive to provide their continuous support to strengthen existing health infrastructures and spread awareness on key health initiatives in the country.  Achieving sanitation on a global scale starts from the grassroots, with the Government, corporations, communities, policymakers and the people working towards the aim of achieving and sustained sanitation for all. Real impact can be achieved only by working together towards a cleaner and healthier future for the nation.

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