It stings our national pride each time India gets identified by foreigners for its lax hygiene. Whether in blockbuster movies or as a hushed warning to potential travellers there is no doubt that the lack of sanitation facilities for the general population is painfully obvious. This reality of open defecation being the norm is not just unpleasant but incredibly dangerous for the health of the population. Next month however, the country is taking another step in the right direction as Kerala is officially declared an open defecation free (ODF) state.
Aside from Kerala the only other state to achieve this goal has been Sikkim, though even prior to this, the state regularly tops the list of human health indices. They have currently constructed 90% of their target 1,75,084 toilets, all while battling land constraints, logistical issues and teeming populations. The agency heading this project, the Suchitwa Mission, claim that a great many of the houses within cities were well equipped but the challenges lay in the coastal and hilly regions where sea erosion and lack of water were often the greatest impediments.
Mission Executive Director K Vasuki says that they aim to declare the rural sector ODF this year and extend that assurance to the urban sector by next year, for which the work has already begun. Toilets have been constructed across a variety of inhospitable terrains, trekking up hills and wading through water-logged mire but nothing ever dampened their spirits “We can overcome the difficulties to a great extent with comprehensive action plan and region-specific construction methods,” says Vasuki.
For this mission to succeed they are attempting to incite a behavioural change in the mindset of the rural population. By involving villagers in the construction process they hope to educate them on the dangers of open defecation. In the coastal areas many NGO’s we are working on this process “We are working with Costford, an NGO that has developed new low cost construction technology. We engage with students of social work colleges who conduct surveys and campaigns in difficult areas” says Sri. Ameersha R. S, the Programme Officer at Suchitwa Mission. There are many forces at work to make this project a success “Right now, we are training a group of women masons identified by Suchitwa Mission, in low cost construction methods using indigenous materials such as bamboo reinforced with mud” says Mr. Sudhir, a Member of Costford.
With so many hands, minds and hearts being devoted to seeing this initiative through, there is little doubt that it will be a success. Hopefully Kerala will act as a springboard from where the rest of the country can leap into action and solve the sanitation crisis once and for all.
Featured Image http://sanitation.indiawaterportal.org/