India sees dip in soil pollution due to Swachh Bharat: UNICEF study
Non-ODF villages are 1.48 times more likely to have their food contaminated and 2.68 times more likely to have household drinking water contaminated compared to ODF villages.
UNICEF study released on Wednesday claimed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet scheme, Swachh Bharat [Clean India] mission, has reduced ground water contamination in many villages while another study by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said the scheme mobilised around Rs 23,000 crore for creating awareness on sanitation in rural areas.
The UNICEF study, based on ground reports from three states — Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal — said that groundwater samples suggested that villages not free of open defecation were 11.25 times more likely to have their groundwater sources contaminated with faecal matters as compared to open defecation free villages.
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According to the study, soil contamination was found to be 1.13 times more likely in non-ODF villages as compared to ODF villages. Similarly, non-ODF villages are 1.48 times more likely to have their food contaminated and 2.68 times more likely to have household drinking water contaminated compared to ODF villages.
The two reports were released on the World Environment Day and representatives of both institutions lauded the political will of the government for pursuing this scheme. In his first Independence Day speech as the PM in 2014, Modi spoke at length about sanitation and the need to build toilets, a precursor to his ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission. A World Health Organization study in 2018 said that 3 lakh lives would be annually saved once 100% ODF is achieved.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar claimed Swachh Bharat Mission has become a people’s movement. “People made whistle gangs to taunt anyone who would sit in the field. Thousands of women started using toilets. Earlier toilets were made, but not used. We will go forward to provide more toilets as poor people want to aspire,” he said.
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Yasmin Ali Haque, the UNICEF representative in India, said that children are acting as key agents of change. “Now 96.5% toilets are being used regularly. We have seen children are eager to change things. The Swachh Bharat Mission has to be continued and sustained.”
Among the three states, Bihar is the worst in terms of food and drinking water contamination in its non-ODF villages. The study says in such villages of Bihar, 66.7% of food sources are contaminated with feacal matters. The corresponding figures for Odisha and Bengal are 57.1% and 47.1%, respectively. But in ODF villages of Bihar and Bengal, there is zero possibility of food sources being