India’s stellar economic performance during the past decade has brought immense benefits to the people. Emmployment opportunities have increased, enabling millions to emerge from poverty.
But rapid growth has been clouded by a degrading environment and a growing scarcity of natural resources. Today, India ranks 155th among 178 countries accounting for all measurable environmental indicators, and almost dead last in terms of air pollution. What’s more, more than half of the most polluted cities in the G-20 countries are in India. The deteriorating environment is taking its toll on the people’s health and productivity – and costing the economy a staggering Rs. 3.75 trillion each year (US$80 billion) - or 5.7 percent of GDP. So, does growth – so essential for development – have to come at the price of worsened air quality and other environmental degradation? Fortunately, India does not have to choose between growth and the environment.
As fate would have it, Sriviliputtur Government Hospital (in Tamil Nadu’s Ramnathapuram district) happened to be one of the first hospitals he reviewed on taking charge. An officer on Pankaj Kumar Bansal’s team drew his attention to a heavily pregnant lady, who was close to panic stricken tears on being referred out, yet again, to another government hospital for emergency obstetric care. That Sriviliputtur itself was a designated CEmONC center (Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care Center) mandated to provide every conceivable (except for the very super-specialized) care required for a pregnant mother and her neonate, and yet was incapable of handling the emergency, distressed him deeply.
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The author captured the story of Loyabi, in Chhaor Union Parishad. This is her story of how she provided her family with access to better sanitation and improved their futures.
“I will teach my children how to read and write regardless of my difficulties in doing so.”
My name is Loyabi and I come from a very poor family of Mahadanga village in Chhaor Union Parishad. I was married to Abul Hassan, a man from my own village, at the age of 15. For several years our poverty did not prevent us from being happy. We were blessed with two daughters and two sons. However, when my husband was diagnosed with gallstones, I found I had to raise Taka 50,000/- ($630) for his operation.
We had no land of our own and lived on common land. I was able to collect some money by asking for assistance in different villages. I worked as a mid-wife for humans as well as cattle, bathed dead bodies before their burial and somehow put together the required amount of money to get my husband’s operation done.
We rarely give the toilet a second thought. We use it when we need to, and we flush and forget. We are also able to conveniently wash our hands afterwards. But imagine if you are on a long hiking trip or a bus ride with no stops in sight and had no access to a toilet or running water. It’s a situation most people would dread.
In poorer parts of the world, this is the daily reality for many. The humble toilet—perhaps the most important contributor to improved human health in history—is a luxury item which relatively few people enjoy. Without a toilet, the poor have to go in the open, behind bushes, or next to streams. They cannot flush their waste away or wash their hands afterwards if they wanted to. In poorer countries, managing human waste remains a major challenge, and failure to meet that challenge exposes millions of children and adults to waste-borne diseases that can have deadly consequences.
In Nepal, a country of approximately 26 million people, nearly 40% of the population do not have toilets. In parts the Terai or lowland areas, this number climbs to a staggering 75%. To be sure, the Government of Nepal has achieved remarkable progress in improving sanitation coverage in the last two decades. In 1990, only 6% of Nepalis had access to a toilet. By 2011, 62% had access, with the sanitation Millennium Development Goal (MDG) achieved ahead of the 2015 target. However, that achievement still leaves a large population—more than nine million people—without toilets. So the Government decided to aim for a new and more ambitious target—universal access by 2017. And it may get there.
Last month, I visited Nangkhel, a Newari village near Bhaktapur in the eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley, to see how one village succeeded in bringing the luxury of a toilet to all 181 households (or about 900 people).