SANITATION: NEED OF THE DAY
BY: NEHA SAROHA
A plate laden with three large rotis topped with a generous helping of spicy dal (lentils) is laid infront of Roshni. She is hungry, but will not eat it yet. While her husband and two teenage sons quickly polish off what is on their plates, she puts away her plate. "Yes, I am hungry. I have not eaten since morning, but if I eat now I will have to go to the toilet by the time the food is digested and there is always a long queue at the washroom. We have just two toilets for women in this camp. So I eat only one meal a day, to minimise the number of visits to the toilet," she says.
The women affected by the limited access to toilet facilities confess that the only solution available is to ensure that their need to use a toilet is reduced as far as possible which means avoiding water even whilst thirsty. This in turn means that their health suffers, because denying the body sufficient fluid intake can result in kidney problems and other serious illnesses. These health hazards are in addition to those that both men and women, as displaced persons in relief camps, face in terms of unsatisfactory living conditions. Echoing this point of view, the women of one family affected by the earthquake in Gujarat said, "We can speak boldly about the lack of sheets and pillows and blankets, but somehow find it difficult to bring ourselves to mention toilets. That is a subject we are not supposed to mention, it's not done. It is considered improper, unbecoming. Sharam aathi hai (we feel ashamed)." "Sharam" (shame) is considered a woman's precious ornament, even if it means attending to perfectly natural and normal functions. And that continues to be so, even today!
Is anybody really surprised that nearly half of India's 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home?
Open defecation is rife, and remains a major impediment in achieving millennium development goals which include reducing by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015. Mahatma Gandhi, India's greatest leader, once inspected toilets in the city of Rajkot in Gujarat and reported that they were "dark, stinking and reeking with filth and worms" in the homes of the wealthy and the temples. Moreover, the homes of the untouchables had no toilets at all. "Latrines are for you big people," an untouchable told Gandhi.
India's enduring shame is clearly rooted in cultural attitudes. Even after more than 60 years of Independence, many Indians continue to relieve themselves in the open and litter unhesitatingly, but keep their homes spotlessly clean. Yes, the state has failed to extend sanitation facilities, but its high time that people should also take the blame.
Illnesses caused by germs and worms in faeces, wastes and pollutants are constant source of discomfort for millions of people. Poor sanitation is something that not only affects the health of the people of the country, but also affects the economic and social development of the nation. Most cities and towns in India are characterized by over-crowding, congestion, inadequate water supply, and inadequate facilities of disposal of human excreta, wastewater and solid wastes. Fifty five percent of India’s population (nearly 600 million people) has no access to toilets.
Proper sanitation refers to principles, practices, provisions, or services related to cleanliness and hygiene in personal and public life for the protection and promotion of human health and well being and breaking the cycle of disease or illness. It is also related to the principles and practices relating to the collection, treatment, removal or disposal of human excreta, household waste water and other pollutants. The World Health Organization states that: Sanitation generally refers to the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces. Inadequate sanitation is a major cause of disease world-wide and improving sanitation is known to have a significant beneficial impact on health both in households and across communities.
A study conducted by World Bank’s ‘South Asia Water and Sanitation Unit’ estimated that India loses Rs 240 billion annually due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. The multilateral body said that premature deaths, treatment for the sick and loss of productivity and revenue from tourism were the main factors behind the significant economic loss. Poor sanitation is something that not only affects the health of the people of the country, but also affects the development of the nation. In fact, women are most affected by the hazards of lack of proper sanitation. For instance, in India majority of the girls drop out of school because of lack of toilets. Only 22% of them manage to even complete class 10. On economic grounds, according to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, more than Rs 12 billion is spent every year on poor sanitation and its resultant illnesses.
Until there is shift in the mindset of people to a point where they actually believe that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, nothing is going to change.