By Gurinder Gulati
GUJARAT, India, October 2009 – On the 2nd of October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the Gujarat government launched the state-wide Rural Sanitation Week and renewed its commitment to achieve the goal of Open Defecation Free State.
At a special function organized in the state capital, the Chief Minister of State addressed Sarpanches ( The Heads of Village), Panchayat Secretaries, women’s Self Help Groups (SHG), Gram Mitras and the community at large in all 18,000 villages of the state via video.
Around 2,500 persons from all walks of life, including teachers and school children from Gandhinagar and the neighbouring districts participated in the function.
Ten Sarpanches of Gandhinagar district, who had received Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP) for making their villages “Open Defecation Free”, were also honoured on this occasion.
The launch of the Rural Sanitation Week on 2nd October was the culmination of a host of activities that were being implemented by the Government of Gujarat as a part of an intensive campaign, kicked off on 15 August 2009, to promote sanitation and hygiene behaviour across Gujarat.
Cleanliness drives were organised in each village and school children, supported by members of the village Panchayat and teachers cleaned their villages.
Water quality surveillance was also carried out in 1,130 villages that have been awarded the NGP award, followed by approximately 900 NGP aspirant villages. The objective was to educate the community about the importance of sanitation, hygiene behaviour and safe drinking water.
Competitions were organized in the schools to create a sense of cleanliness and hygiene among children by recognizing the most clean and sparkling child with a badge of “Aaj Nu Gulab” (Today’s Rose). The most popular nine-day dancing festival of Navratri in the month of September was also used to spread awareness about sanitation and hygiene by putting up banners and hoardings at the festival sites.
UNICEF working in coordination with Government
UNICEF has been actively supporting the Government of Gujarat in building an enabling environment in the state to promote sanitation and hygiene behaviour.
“Rural Sanitation Week and the cleanliness drives organized by the State Government are a testimony to Government’s resolve to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of sanitation and thus to provide an opportunity to the children to develop to their full potential, says Dr. Yogendra Mathur, Chief of UNICEF Gujarat Office.
Gujarat, with a population of 55 million, has had a poor track record with 20 per cent rural sanitation coverage (NFHS-3) four years ago. However, with consistent efforts made by the Government and the community, the situation is now starting to turn around.
Out of 18,000 villages, 1,300 villages have already been declared open defecation free and 1,032 villages have applied for the NGP award this year. Also a significant change has been witnessed in hygiene behaviour in the state.
“Sanitation is not a programme, but a way of life. We must make a sincere commitment to ourselves to ensure a clean environment in the villages and thus contribute to a healthy and prosperous society”, said Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat on this occasion.
He added that making a commitment to practice hygiene behaviour, particularly washing hands with soap, will be the fittest tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his birthday.
Mr Modi announced a special incentive of 500 rupees for families falling in the “Above the Poverty Line” category to encourage them to construct a toilet in their home.
Messages from noted celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Navjyot Singh Sidhu and Irfan Pathan were also telecast over satellite link to motivate the community, particularly children, to use toilets and wash hands with soap after defecation and before eating, those will help protect children from disease and morbidity.