NEW DELHI, India, 29 September 2018 – On the eve of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi India is sharing its sanitation journey with the world at the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention (MGISC) being organized by the Government of India from 29 September to 2 October.
UNICEF is participating in the Convention as both a partner of the Government of India and because water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are a major programming focus.
Bringing together leaders from some 50 countries, the Convention will accommodate a series of technical and ministerial sessions on financing, gender equity and inclusion, political leadership, technology and innovation, public-private partnership, and other key areas influencing sanitation coverage. It was inaugurated by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind.
The timing of MGISC both corresponds with the completion of the fourth year of the Swachh Bharat Mission, launched by the Prime Minister in 2014, and the advent of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement and one of its most prolific proponents for practicing safe sanitation and cleanliness.
Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) was launched with the vision of achieving an India free of open defecation India by October 2nd, 2019. It was in part a response to the country’s disproportionate burden of child mortality and stunting that was in part a result of 568 million residents not having access to safe sanitation, according to 2015 figures. At that time, India alone accounted for 90 per cent of the people in South Asia, and half of the 1.2 billion people in the world, who lacked access to sanitation and therefore suffered the indignity of having to defecate in the open. This situation contributed to approximately 105,000 diarrheal deaths of children under five in the country – some 22 per cent of the global burden in 2015. Open defecation poses a serious threat to the health of children in India. Contact with human waste can cause diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, diarrhea, worm infestation and under nutrition.
While national sanitation campaigns were implemented in India by government since the early 1980s, the SBM is unique in its positioning of behaviour change communication as an integral part of promoting the consistent and sustained use of toilets. One of the biggest challenges to ending open defecation is not just providing clean and safe toilets, but changing the behavior of entire communities. A large part of UNICEF’s work in ending open defecation is to generate awareness, share information and to spur behaviour change in an effort to bridge the gap between building toilets and their proper use.
This focus has been important as the practice of open defecation in India is mired in various cultural and societal practices that have for decades been considered normative. The focus on boosting one’s self-agency was complemented by a swell of support from the grassroots level, which transformed SBM into a ‘people’s movement’. This model is now being integrated into new national programmes, such as the National Nutrition Mission POSHAN Abhiyan.
UNICEF is supporting the Government of India to implement the sanitation programme in the country and improving sanitation service delivery. UNICEF is also supporting the development of innovative solutions for sanitation. This involves improving sanitation technology, ensuring basic toilets are affordable, accessible and that they meet criteria for safety, effectiveness, sustainability, environmental impact and child-friendliness.
For more information on the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention, please visit www.mgisc.gov.in and join the conversation on social media using #MGISC and #SwachhBharat.
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