Flushing Away the Issues, One Toilet at a Time
Pehle Shauchalaya, phir Devalaya (peh-lay shah-cha-lay, fir they-va-lay). This might not say much to the those who don’t understand the Indian national language, Hindi, but the phrase – which translates to “Toilets First, Temples Later”- speaks volumes about the sanitation initiative sweeping the country as part of the bigger “Swacch Bharat Abhiyan” (swutchh-bhaaruth-uhbheeyan) or “Clean India Mission.” Similar programs are popping up in other countries, such as Cambodia, Kenya, and China, aiming to prevent disease, increase hygiene and safety standards. With November 19 approaching, the World Toilet Day as designated by the United Nations, it is an opportune time to take stock of this situation and to evaluate current efforts to address the challenges related to lack of access to proper sanitation facilities and the serious issues it creates.
As one of the earliest civilizations in the world, India is a country filled with historical monuments, palaces and temples at every corner. With a large and diverse demographic, temples and religious structures are considered sacred and hold priority over other infrastructure. This results in the ongoing construction of temples, often thought to be at the detriment of addressing other needs. One of these areas of need are related to sanitation, so when India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, introduced the “Toilets before Temples” campaign, the bold but crucial initiative was a welcome change.
The World Health Organization (WHO), approximates that 50% of all malnutrition cases in the world are associated with repeated diarrhea or intestinal worm infections as a direct result of inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene. Open defecation contaminates food and water which transmits diarrhea-related diseases that kill 700,000 children every year worldwide with 200,000 of these deaths occurring in India. In Cambodia, untreated water and lack of sanitation facilities cause up to 10 million cases of diarrhea and 10,000 deaths per year, mostly in rural areas among children under the age of five. Due to lack of water and sanitation, diarrhea and pneumonia are leading causes for deaths in children under five years of age in Kenya.
Along with health risks, the lack of latrines also poses safety risks. In 2014, two young girls from a village in Uttar Pradesh, India were raped and murdered after using an open field to relieve themselves under the cover of night. Unfortunately, women and children in India continue to experience gruesome harassment simply because of a lack of proper sanitation infrastructure. However, this tragic incident once again brought the spotlight to the necessity of providing latrines within reach of the villagers’ homes.
Growing support for more sanitation facilities also brings attention to the non-profit organizations who have been actively working on this issue. Sulabh International, an Indian nonprofit that advocates for environmental sustainability, has built 1.3 million toilets in Indian homes in the last 40 years. Using a simple two-pit design – one pit that gets filled with waste while the other one biodegrades the waste which can be used as fertilizer – the low-cost toilet can be a widely adopted solution having a positive impact on both sanitation as well as sustainability. These efforts are complemented by the work of various other organizations, such as the Responsenet Development Services, a grantee of CAF America based in New Delhi, which is deeply engaged in providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) resources for the underprivileged. Similarly, through micro-financing institutions, Cambodian social enterprises like the “Made for Life” organization make sanitation infrastructure affordable and sustainable and help eliminate the transfer of pathogens and diseases.
Our partner organization, CAF India, a member of CAF Global Alliance, launched the “Right to Sanitation Challenge” program aiming to improve sanitation infrastructure and hygiene education in schools and communities in India. A special focus of the program is to help young girls stay in school by addressing this issue, as it is noted that girls often drop-out after hitting puberty given that over 30 million children in India do not have access to toilets in their school. While conducting the challenge, CAF India asked participants to close restrooms for one hour to raise awareness about the inconvenience numerous children face at school.This campaign supported the construction and renovation of around 1,400 school toilet facilities for girls and boys, 91 rainwater harvesting structures, 332 drinking water facilities, and 61 water filters contributing significantly to basic sanitation facilities in various parts of India.
While the issue of adequate sanitation facilities is an ongoing one, important strides have been made to provide basic sanitation resources and facilities to the underserved around the world. For more information on organizations actively working on the ground to support community development and healthy lifestyles, search through CAF America’s Global Database.