Creating Open Defecation Free Environments and Livelihood Opportunities

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Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are among the powerful drivers of human development, affecting quality of life at many levels, including improved health and economic status. The practise of open defecation has serious consequences on the wellbeing and dignity of present and future generations. To end this, access to safe, affordable, accessible and appropriate sanitation facilities is imperative.

WASH plays a key role in the absorption of the ingested food and nutrients. It is a key determinant for poverty alleviation and socio-economic development and for reducing infant and maternal mortality. 

For example, lack of WASH results in:

*water and sanitation facilities, poor dietary intake of iron, iron loss due to parasite load, poor environmental and personal sanitation contribute to high rates of transmission of helminth infections especially hookworm infections, leading to iron deficiency anemia among women.

*Fetal abnormalities leading to abortions and stillbirths in pregnant mothers.

*Unsafe water, lack of sanitation and insufficient hygiene are responsible for 50% of underweight children in the world. In India 59% kids are stunted and 42% are underweight. Malnourished children are more vulnerable to other infectious diseases more are induced by unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and insufficient hygiene.

*Incidences of diarrhea, the second biggest killer of children in South Asia at 11 % after Pneumonia at 22%. In India alone 13% of Under-5 mortality deaths are due to diarrhea. Other diseases include cholera, jaundice, worm infestation amongst others. Recent research indicates that the impact of poor sanitation on nutrition and growth are much more than was earlier estimated. Lack of sanitation facilities have also contributed towards low birth weight babies and physical and mental stunting.

*More cases of anemia. Asia and Africa account for more than 85% of the absolute anemia burden in high-risk groups with nearly 40% of 5-yr-olds being anaemic in India.

*Increased violence against women. At least 17% women in the rural areas walk more than half a km to get water for their families and for their cattle, and 55% of them are forced to bathe in the open because they do not have any private bathing facilities and are also forced to defecate in the open. In 2012, In Bihar 40 per cent of rape cases took place when women went out to defecate, according to police sources.

*Increased work burden on women and their consequent inability to engage in other productive/ economic activities.

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) was launched by the PM on October 2, 2014 with the aim of universal sanitation coverage and a clean India by October 2, 2019, coinciding with the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Since then, the SBM and sanitation have got a big push with celebrities, NGOs, corporates and others adding their might. 

Responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation  (Ministry responsible for drinking water and sanitation stated that as on 27 July 2016, 17 districts, 223 blocks, 31,077 gram panchayats and 68,808 villages had declared themselves open defecation free.

As on September 20, 2016, 54.95 per cent of the rural population has access to toilets and 83,038 villages are open defecation free. As per Census 2011, there are 597,608 villages in India. Thus while toilet coverage has increased in leaps and bounds, the journey of providing access to toilets is far from over. In case of districts, 23 have become open defecation free: 600 plus more districts need to achieve this status as well.

Livelihood opportunities in sanitation

One of the lesser known facts about the SBM, both rural and urban, is the employment potential and the livelihood opportunities that the Mission offers, both rural and urban.

Take SBM (Gramin). The entire movement depends on generating demand and meeting supply requirements.  How is demand generated? Through engaging people to raise awareness, convincing them to use toilets and stimulate behavior change. This involves engaging the village community, including the frontline workers and self-help groups. The guidelines have provisions to provide financial incentives for this. Village level workers are provided an incentive for every toilet that is constructed as a result of their efforts.

One of the major deterrents to toilet construction is the absence of supply chains to provide necessary hardware and construction support. Hardware components such as pans and RCC rings are required to construct toilets. Information on suitable hardware choices and its availability and masons who can construct the toilets are not easily available at convenient distances. This needs to be rectified. These supply units needs to be set up at convenient and accessible distances, especially in geographically challenging and hard to reach areas, so that conviction for safe defecation can convert to action.

Setting up of a production facility that meets this hardware requirement offers the villages an opportunity to set up small production enterprises.

The construction of toilets requires the services of skilled masons who again build the toilet for a fee. In many states a trained care of skilled masons has been developed who can provide their services for a fee.

In Odisha for example, hardware supply units have been set up by SHG groups to cater to local demand and the demand of nearby villages.

WASH Academies also known as Parimal Pratisthans, are one-stop-shop cum resource centres for WASH activities, owned and driven by the community especially the women self-help groups within it.

Started in Kalahandi and Kandhamal, the WASH Academies are designed to function as profit generating businesses by women Self Help Groups (SHGs). The SHGs are directly involved in the production and sale of materials; supply of trained masons and creating continued local demand.

Parimal Pratisthans are one stop shop-cum-resource centres for WASH activities, owned and driven by the community especially the women SHGs. The activities of the Parimal Pratisthan include:

*Production of quality and environment friendly sanitary material

*Roster of trained masons

*Locally appropriate IEC materials for dissemination

*Site specific toilet designs (drawings, cost estimates)


The target to become Swachh Bharat and remove open defecation from the face of India’s countryside and urban landscape is exciting and challenging and should yield the desired results of clean environments, reduced disease and healthy children. While coverage progress needs to accelerate, the sustained use and maintenance of toilets needs to be ensured for the elimination of open defecation and creation of a safe and healthy environment. Research unfortunately informs about return to open defecation practices. This is where campaigns at all levels come into play. A clean India is possible if we all together work towards this. Most importantly,the journey will also provide livelihood opportunities along the way which will continue even beyond.


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