India has been bogged down by unclean and unhealthy garbage disposal practices for years now. Litter and waste are not thrown and managed properly in urban areas as well. This is the main reason for a rise in various diseases including respiratory and intestinal disorders and cancer. But one of the toughest behavioural change that is being brought about in India, is around how people still defecate openly. Open defecation is the practice of people going out in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet to defecate. Although open defecation is an ancient practice, with development and urbanization, it has become a health hazard and a human dignity issue. It also poses a serious threat to children’s health and creates vulnerability for women being attacked and bitten by snakes etc. It gives rise to poor sanitation which in turn gives rise to life-threatening diseases. Such circumstances cripple longevity, prosperity and development of a nation.
The government aims to make India “Open Defecation Free” by 2019. Their key partner in this mission is UNICEF India. This is a flagship initiative of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) that was started in October 2014. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Swachh Bharat Mission is a nation-wide campaign in India for the period 2014 to 2019 that aims to clean up the streets, roads and infrastructure of India’s cities, towns, and rural areas. As part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a lot of activities are undertaken to ensure a clean India. Freedom from open defecation (ODF) is one of the prominent goals for all villages of India.
UNICEF has developed the national sanitation and hygiene, advocacy and communication strategy for the Government of India and is working with state governments to implement the same. They are also initiating and implementing open defecation elimination plans by creating an enabling environment of communication, education, discipline and good practices.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have collaborated with UNICEF bring awareness around hand washing and hygiene in schools and in health centres with their WASH initiative. In addition to WASH, UNICEF’s Advocacy and Communication are propagating the Poo2Loo campaign. In this campaign, the population of young Indians who have a toilet at home are sensitized to the plight of those who do not have toilets. This way, a youth social movement is mobilised to create awareness about ending open defecation and invigorating the need to construct more toilets. After having launched this campaign in major Indian cities, its reach has already spread to smaller cities and rural areas.
A building of public toilets in fields and open spaces where people usually relieve themselves is also another way of mitigating this unhealthy practice. The fact that mobile connectivity has permeated villages as well works in favour of sending text messages to the rural population, encouraging them to use the facilities provided. Incentive programs and initiatives promoting toilet use during monsoons are helpful as well. ODF sustenance is easier in villages as people can be easily identified if they violate ODF statuses as they will be visible. Using toilets is reinforced and fines or are implemented on violators to ensure that the sanctity of an ODF village is not broken. Citing the example of the state of Madhya Pradesh where children monitor open defecators and discourage them from unsanitary practices, other states in India can also follow suit.
Thus, by providing infrastructure, motivation and incentives, the government is tackling this issue hands-on to achieve their goal of achieving an Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2 October 2019.
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To know more about water security read our Article Water Security in Rural India