On 2nd October 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or Clean India Mission. The aim is to eliminate the practice of open defecation by October 2019 by constructing 12 million toilets in rural India.
However, building sanitation facilities is not enough to stop open defecation. As well as the providing of sanitation facilities, it must be ensured that they are in working condition, they must be kept clean and maintained properly. Dirty facilities become unused facilities. That is why creating awareness and understanding among people of the importance of the use and maintenance of sanitation facilities is fundamental. If people do not understand the importance of having, using and maintaining clean toilets, there will not be a behaviour change. Maintenance and use of facilities are great challenges.
Let us take the example of a public school of a village in Western Uttar Pradesh where recently new sanitation facilities have been built. Toilets are separated for boys and girls and seem to be functioning. However, taking a closer look at the inside of the sanitation facilities it is impossible not to notice that the hygienic conditions of the toilets are not appropriate; the floor is wet and dirty and there is no disposal for used sanitary napkins. That is when I have learnt that the people of the village in charge of the cleaning do not carry out properly their work and that the dust bin has been stolen from the toilets.
If toilets are not clean, there is a higher risk of infections and diseases. It can also happen that children would not be inclined to use them. As for girls going to school in their period, it is fundamental to have a place for the disposal of used sanitary napkins to ensure they can change them regularly and without feeling uncomfortable. Toilets need to be cleaned and provided with the essential tools. Attendance of children, particularly girls, improves when they can use good sanitation facilities. Children need to be taught to use, clean and maintain facilities. In addition, people that are in charge of cleaning have to understand the importance and necessity of proper hygienic conditions of toilets.
Creating awareness of the issue is the way to ensure the success of the Clean India Mission. There is no possibility for a behaviour change without it. Especially in the rural area, where is concentrated the 68.85% of the population, is important to make a change since 61% of the population still defecates outside, against the 10% living in the urban area. Open defecation is still practiced even if toilets has been provided. To solve this issue, awareness must be created among all the community. Maintaining clean sanitation facilities is a responsibility of every citizen and it requires the participation of everyone. Behaviour change and communication programmes are much more important than building toilets.
NGOs like Heeals are a fundamental part in the mobilisation and support of local groups. Organising workshops and other educational activities are an effective way to educate children and to include families and members of the community in the awareness process. They can help to develop shared norms in the community and to understand and support hygiene improvement in schools. Awareness raising and promotion in the community is the key for a successful result.
INDIA 2016, A Reference Annual, Compiled by New Media Wing, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 2016.