By Lesley D. Biswas - India - October 1, 2010
In Haryana, a northeastern state in
Among the first things you notice when you come to
Out of the estimated 2.6 billion people globally who have no
access to proper sanitation, 638 million belong to
For women like Basanti the daily struggle begins well before dawn. “I have to wake up early every morning and walk to the nearby stream. First, it is important to find a secluded spot away from men and pigs. Second, the spot should not be already soiled with raw feces,” says Basanti. Most of the spots are overused and for the majority of village folk who walk barefoot, the experience they face every morning is unimaginable.
“During the monsoons it is worse. In the dark
when we visit the water logged field overgrown with grass and floating with
night soil, the danger of getting bitten by snakes and scorpions is also high”
informs Basanti, veiling her bright smile with her sari palu. Although it is
visible that she is embarrassed, what is also evident is that Basanti’s family
has the means to construct a toilet, yet a toilet is not their priority. And
surprisingly, it is also not the priority among millions of poor across
According to a UN study on sanitation, 563.7 million people in
Jack Sim, founder and president of the World Toilet Organization (WTO) points out that the only way poor Indian families will prioritize toilets is through local entrepreneurs. “Train the poor to become sanitation entrepreneurs and sales agents,” says Sim, whose mission is to improve sanitation globally.
Sim goes on to explain the logic behind this theory. “We can create a sustainable sanitation delivery model that is profit driven. The technologies are available. All we need is to build the market supply chain and distribution infrastructures [and] train the poor to collaborate with business people to create a vibrant marketplace that works to earn profit and save lives.”
He further adds, “Toilets have to be designed to be emotionally appealing so that they become status symbols and objects of desire amongst the poor, which is the only reason why poor are buying mobile phones and not investing in toilets.”
Lack of proper sanitation is
also a major cause of girls dropping out of school after adolescence. It is
estimated that less than half of the 738,150 primary schools run by the
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, or WASH, a collaboration between
UNICEF and the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
(WSSCC) to accelerate efforts by both organizations to achieve Millennium
Development Goal Seven – to reduce by half the proportion of people without
access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 - reports that
diarrhea due to drinking contaminated water and poor sanitation claims the
lives of around two million children globally each year. Half of the deaths
reported are in
Paul Calvert is the brain behind eco-toilets, a dry compost toilet with a separate urine-diverting system. It has been found that open defecation and private soakaway’s are the prime reason for drinking water getting contaminated, and eco-toilets, says Calvert, ensure that does not happen. “Eco-toilets do not waste water and they do not pollute water. What they do is allow the valuable nutrients to be recycled and used for fuel and fodder production,” explains Calvert.
Another problem brought on by improper sanitation that needs immediate redressing is human scavenging, the demeaning practice of cleaning dry latrines, mostly done with bare hands. To end human scavenging, dry latrines must go.
Image of Paul Calvert's eco-toilet "The Ecopan." Eco-toilets are easy to build and give owners a sense of pride. Photograph courtesy of eco-solutions
Traditional dry latrines are
not connected to drainage systems and must be manually cleaned. In 1993 the
Despite the ban in 2002-03 there are still 6 million dry latrines
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, a social service organization that has built over 1.2 million individual toilets and over 7,500 public toilets across India and has liberated over 60,000 scavengers by constructing flush toilets, says, “To eliminate scavenging and bring about total sanitation, the government, NGO’s, and the citizenry need to work in close collaboration to make a real difference. When that happens, programs become a success. But when they work in isolation the project lags behind.”
According to Dr. Pathak, state governments in Jharkhand, Orissa,
In Haryana, a northeastern state in
“I think such a pledge is very good. It creates a social norm that
creates peers pressure for the greater good,” said Sim, who hopes to see
When women are willing to change the situation a real difference is made to society. Only if women decide to prioritize toilets can the policy makers ensure their demand is fulfilled.