World Toilet Day 2013 in South Asia
Intent and Reality – the Great Divide!
“Toilets are more important than independence”
– M K Gandhi
Father of the Nation emphasised the importance of Toilets in the pre-independent India and said it to be more important than attaining independence from foreign rule. This fact has somehow, in the past 66 years since independence, has not received adequate attention and as a result, the country has not prioritised sanitation. Today, the independent sovereign India is the Global Capital of open defecation with more than half of its 1200+ million people defecating in the open every day. The political independence has not brought any significant change to this reality.
The misplaced priorities led to India celebrating its maiden mission to Mars demonstrating its strategic, technical and execution excellence investing about 400+ crores rupees to join the elite club of nations even when millions of its people are bereft of basic services such as safe drinking water and sanitation. The sanitation crisis calls for similar excellence in action, to save the Indian children from diarrhoeal deaths, malnutrition and stunting, the significant cause of this being poor sanitation.
The sad story further unfolds a grimmer picture of world’s third fastest growing economy. The census report in 2011 brought forth the startling information of about 3.5 crore toilets built in ten years at the individual household levels were missing. These toilets were built under the country’s flagship program ‘Total Sanitation Campaign’ which got rechristened as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in May 2012 with enhanced incentive support.
This renewed emphasis and additional resource allocations may be welcome steps, but these knee jerk reactions have not been able to give the needed fillip for taking sanitation movement forward at the grassroots. According to 2011 census, 36 per cent of households do not have a source of water at the place where they live. Women are forced to walk at least 500 metres in rural areas to collect water. This situation is even more challenging in areas affected with drought or face perennial water shortage, such as Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh or states like Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. This further exasperates the situation, as poor access to water impacts on use of available toilets.
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