News / Health

    On World Toilet Day, India Focuses on Pledge to Build Toilets for All

    Indian school children participate in a rally to mark World Toilet Day in Hyderabad, India, Nov.19, 2014.
    Indian school children participate in a rally to mark World Toilet Day in Hyderabad, India, Nov.19, 2014.
    Anjana Pasricha

    India is racing to build toilets by 2019 for 600 million people or roughly half the population which lacks access to sanitization. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put it high on the national agenda, but the challenge could be daunting in a country where defecating in the open is a common sight and is accepted by many as normal.

    A giant 700-kilogram cake shaped like a toilet, a walk-a-thon and pledges by hundreds of students to join a sanitation drive marked a three-day event in New Delhi (Nov. 18-20) billed as International Toilet Festival.

    It was held to observe World Toilet Day. It is a day that got more attention than ever before, thanks to a massive campaign launched by Modi last month (Oct. 2) to provide toilets in every home.
     
    School students like Diksha sound enthusiastic about the drive, which also focuses on cleaning up towns and cities where garbage lying in streets is a common sight.
     
    “I want you all to be encouraged, get motivated by all these people who are here, including me and my friends, not to pollute the environment and to create toilets where ever possible,” said Diksha.
     
    The event was organized by Sulabh International, an India-based social organization that has been working to improve sanitation.
     
    Danger in the field

    Lack of access to toilets has been identified as a huge problem, particularly in rural India. It not only spreads diseases like diarrhea but also exposes women to the risk of sexual assault when they go into the fields after dark. A World Bank study estimated that poor sanitation could be costing India $54 billion in treatments for illnesses, early deaths and lost productivity.
     
    Health experts however say the challenge is more complex than one of just providing toilets.
     
    In villages, there is often huge resistance to using them, partly due to age-old cultural associations of latrines in, or near, the home with ritual impurity.

    World access to sanitation, FAO report Nov. 19, 2014
    World access to sanitation, FAO report Nov. 19, 2014

    A study by Diane Coffey, a visiting researcher from Princeton University, indicated that 40 percent of 3,200 households surveyed in northern India reported that even in homes with a latrine, at least one member preferred to use the fields. Speaking to VOA from the rural Sitapur district in Uttar Pradesh where she is working, Coffey called this a wake-up statistic.
     
    “Open defecation, unlike in other places, where it has a negative connotation, here it is something that is completely normal, and even sometimes wholesome, like the fact that you have gone for a morning walk, and you have exercised your body and you have gotten up early. These are all signs of vigor and strength,” she said.
     
    However, Modi and organizations like Sulabh sound optimistic that the target can be achieved.

    Sanitation campaign

    FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, sweeps an a road with a broom along with civic workers in New Delhi, Oct. 2, 2014.FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, sweeps an a road with a broom along with civic workers in New Delhi, Oct. 2, 2014.
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    FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, sweeps an a road with a broom along with civic workers in New Delhi, Oct. 2, 2014.
    FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, sweeps an a road with a broom along with civic workers in New Delhi, Oct. 2, 2014.

    While launching his cleanliness campaign last month, Modi urged the country to turn the drive into a social campaign.

    He said it takes time to change old mindsets and habits, and is a tough task. But if everyone joins hands to make it a mass movement, then India too will be counted among the world’s clean countries.
     
    A beginning has been made with social organizations like Sulabh and several corporations and even celebrities vowing to give momentum to the campaign.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Teri Maa
    November 21, 2014 2:01 AM
    modi needs to build 100 million toilets and related sewer systems to support them. Currently the Indians have to take dump on the beaches, parks, street sides, alleys, fields ... you name it. Women have to do this when it is dark that's when they get raped by police and others ..Build the toilets first.

    by: Teri Maa
    November 21, 2014 1:24 AM
    The country which cannot have peace with its neighbors cannot progress. India is good on buying weapons worth billions of dollars but unable to nourish 70% living below poverty line. SHAME on modi.

    by: eusebio manuel vestias from: Portugal
    November 20, 2014 7:32 AM
    it is necessary brothers away and create value to ensure access to sustainable health system in the poorest places in the world

    by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
    November 19, 2014 6:18 PM
    Please do not get excited when a Minister announce a program in India. India needs more than 365 days a year for designating days for developments such as cleanliness, toilet, electricity, computer, education, home for homeless, land for landless, slum removal, radio, TV, child labor, TB, AIDS, Hepatitis, dysentery, child abuse, child mortality, child labor, rape, attacks against women, environment, infant mortality, poverty, violence, crime, national highways, terrorism, taking care of elderly, national pension, social security, national identification card, electronic voting and other developments. The designated days are for politicians to get on stage and for media to report. But nothing happens in India. If it all anything happens it is at snail's pace. At this pace, another century is a reasonable target for implementation of most of those designated days and announcements by the Ministers in the Central government and the states.
    In Response

    by: Arun from: San Diego, CA
    November 19, 2014 10:31 PM
    To: @Davis K. Thanjan
    There are those who say, "I can."
    And there are those who say, "I can't."
    You know - both are right.

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