The magnitude of the sanitation crisis in India cannot be over-stated; about half of the country still defecates in the open and many households remain unconnected to the sewage system. In India, there is an unprecedented buzz and energy around the issue, particularly since the government of India pledged to make India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019. While the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is gaining traction, a people’s movement is needed in order to achieve the speed, scale and sustainability to hit this ambitious target.
This includes those most directly benefiting from programmes like SBM as well as those who believe that they have neither a vested interest in nor are impacted by inadequate sanitation. The truth is that it impacts us all and we need to ensure that the entire sanitation value chain is addressed; from building toilets to ensure equitable access for every citizen, ensuring they are used and well maintained, and that the generated human waste is safely treated and disposed of.
The harmful effects of inadequate sanitation have a severe impact on a healthy population, education, a productive workforce, economic growth, and the path towards India becoming a truly developed country. In India, there are 1,600 deaths daily from diarrhoeal diseases — the same as if eight 200-person jumbo jets crashed to the ground each day. Poor sanitation and hygiene have also been closely linked to irreversible physical and cognitive damage. Further, an estimate of over 73% of all faecal sludge generated in the country is left untreated in the environment in India.
Such jarring statistics set us back on our overall agenda of an India that is vibrant and healthy. Ultimately, we need all hands on deck.
The media also has an important responsibility to recognise the consequences that unwarranted or negative reportage can have to the broader sanitation movement. We would like to see many more media and communication channels step up to this plate and become avid sanitation champions as they are a critical part of the amplification of any social movement.
Success must be achieved through a community-led process with local leaders such as panchayats and other community groups, supported by political and bureaucratic leaders. Change must be people-centric and designed with the end-user in mind. Global Citizen India is one such sterling example of creating a strong citizen engagement platform, and particularly working with youth communities — since the future leaders and champions of social change are the young and India must leverage its great demographic edge of a vibrant youth. Their strength in numbers and their energy and receptivity to new ideas should be harnessed for creating a strong on-ground movement.
India Sanitation Coalition has partnered with Global Citizen India, a social action platform that comprises a distinctive mix of events, grassroots activism, media campaigning and online activation, to catalyse India’s 15-year journey towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and to bring about the end of extreme poverty. We need more such activities and platforms that believe that sanitation is the key to tackling extreme poverty.
Ultimately, it is each of our responsibility to move the sanitation agenda of the country forward. Whether it is stopping someone from littering, engaging with our local communities or politicians on the issue or providing adequate facilities to people in our own workspaces or homes, a small step can go a long way. Only collectively, through the creation of a people’s sanitation movement, can we achieve a truly Swachh India.
Naina Lal Kidwai, chair, India Sanitation Coalition
The views expressed are personal