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Open Defecation

What happens when the playground is also the potty?

Emily C. Rand's picture

Imagine you are a busy mother scrubbing your laundry next to the public water stand near your yard. You realize your two year old — who is playing in the dirt — has to go to the toilet. What do you do? Chances are good you might just let them go on the ground somewhere nearby.

According to a recent analysis by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank Global Water Practice's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) in key countries, over 50 percent of households with children under age three reported that the feces of their children were unsafely disposed of the last time they defecated. What this really means is that children are literally pooping where they are and their feces are left there, in the open. Meanwhile, the feces of other children in the neighborhood are put or rinsed in a ditch or drain, or buried or thrown into solid waste streams that keep the feces near the household environment.

 

Six steps to a successful sanitation campaign

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

new latrineInadequate sanitation costs India $54 billion a year. To that, add the challenge of juggling our nationalistic aspirations of superpowerdom with the ignominy of housing the largest share of human population that defecates in the open.  In light of this, here are six steps to a success sanitation campaign.

Amid many reports that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) is failing, we need a dose of optimism. While SBA might be failing, it certainly isn’t the first, nor will it be the last state-led sanitation programme to fail in India. Our large schemes to tackle this challenge have, more often than not, ended up as models of just what one should avoid doing if they are serious about bringing about total sanitation.
 
It is now widely acknowledged that conventional approaches are not working: those that set up a false dichotomy between construction and behaviour change; those that are content with pit latrines as opposed to functional toilets; those that use reductionist conceptions such as communities being open defecation free rather than focusing on personal and environmental sanitation and hygiene as a whole; and those that settle for incremental coverage instead of full coverage from the start.
 
However, it’s not that there are no success stories within India or in our immediate neighbourhood. For one, the experiences of locally-embedded NGOs that have taken their interventions to scale can be highly instructive. There have also been state-led successes in Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh that can offer valuable lessons. So what could some key design elements in a sanitation programme be?
 

Why do sanitation campaigns fail?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The study finds that the govt’s rural sanitation programme, implemented by NGOs, was unable to reduce exposure to faecal matter.

A recently published Lancet paper looks at the impact of the erstwhile Total Sanitation Campaign in the coastal Puri district in Odisha. The study finds that the government’s rural sanitation programme, implemented by NGOs and community-based organisations, was unable to reduce exposure to faecal matter. As a result, this sanitation programme had no impact on the incidence of diarrhoea and malnutrition. The authors of the paper conclude that in order to realise concrete and sustainable health benefits, sanitation programmes need to increase both the coverage and use of toilets, as well as improved hygienic practices.

No one denies the importance of good sanitation and the impact it has on human health. It must follow therefore that the lack of positive impact is down to poor implementation of the sanitation programme in the study area. In fact, a process evaluation of the programme concludes that the implementation was far from perfect, both in terms of the levels of coverage achieved and the levels of awareness. Over an implementation period of 13 months (January 2011—January 2012), the villages where the programme was implemented saw an increase in toilet coverage from 9% to 63%, but only 38% of the households had a functional toilet. It would have been interesting to learn more about the gap between toilet construction and usage (25 percentage points). In any case, the state of implementation, the authors point out, is typical of the prevalent Total Sanitation Campaign across the country.
 

Nepal aims to be “open defecation free”

Johannes Zutt's picture

The open toilet along the river in Nangkhel villageWe 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.

Chaturman and Nyuchemaya outside the new toilet on their back porchLast 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).
 

A Basic Need to Help Children

Alassane Sow's picture

Alassane Sow, World Bank Country Manager for Cambodia, and Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative to Cambodia, wrote an op-ed for The Phnom Penh Post. Read the op-ed below, courtesy of The Phnom Penh Post.

Did you know that in communities where a high proportion of people defecate outdoors, children are on average shorter than children living in communities where most people use toilets?

How the Issue of “Going” Outside Hit Home

Jecinter Hezron's picture

If a year ago you told me that I would be able to speak authoritatively on the technical aspects of sanitation, I would have thought you were crazy! Kenya is my home; I am 130% Kenyan and have lived here my whole life. In all this time, I never fully realized the sanitation issues in my country. True, I knew the statistics but until recently I didn’t fully realize how the impact was hitting my home.
 

Ending Open Defecation, Not by Evidence Alone

Jaehyang So's picture

Open defecation – going outside without using a toilet or latrine – is one of the most important threats to child health and human capital, period; ending it must be a policy priority.

We Need Your Support to Get Our Dignity Back

Yolande Coombes's picture

In 2007, when I started to work on rural sanitation in Tanzania,  I was intrigued to see the plethora of reports highlighting the ‘sanitation crisis’ in Africa. Of all the Millennium Development Goals, Africa was performing worst in meeting the sanitation target. This message was repeated during the International Year of Sanitation and through the eThekwini Declaration and Commitments in 2008, at AfricaSan3 in 2011, and in the WHO/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme report on progress toward MDGs released last month. But progress is slow. It’s time for us to engage with other groups and sectors that are affected by inadequate sanitation – health, education, environment, and finance.