“We cut costs on the newly constructed toilet by using thatch for the screens … but some animal ate these!” A ripple of laughter greeted this announcement of Bharati Agarwal, president of a women’s organisation in Betul District of Madhya Pradesh in central India at the two-day Workshop on Women and Sanitation held in New Delhi from 20-21 March.
The Total Sanitation Campaign for rural areas, launched by the Government of India in 1999, has touched more than 3000 villages in 559 districts.
More than 122 million households in India do not have toilets. Women bear the brunt of this lack in terms of security as well as severe health problems; snake and scorpion bites, rape and assault are not uncommon when women are compelled to take recourse to the wilderness for this basic function; kidney and urinary tract and several sexual health problems arise because of enforced control. These and similar other accounts of life in India’s rural and urban slum areas came out in the discussion at the Workshop, which was organised jointly by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, UNICEF, WaterAid India, Global Rainwater Harvesting Collective and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.
Participants representing government and non-government organisations from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka emphasised that while such problems abound in the region, the problems of urban slum dwellers, especially those of women, are being neglected in the development initiatives. They also put forth the problems of political apathy, insufficient land or lack of land tenure that preclude the ability to construct a toilet, lack of water and other resources.
Of the 400 million children worldwide who do not have access to safe water, a fifth live in India. An estimated 400,000 children under five die each year due to diarrhoea.
However, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia Dr Ahluwalia stated at the Workshop that the apex policy-making body would give careful consideration to recommendations arising from the Workshop, a promise reiterated by Member Syeda Hameed when she received the Workshop recommendations, which were arrived at through group discussions focusing on school sanitation, as well as rural and urban sanitation. Participants also agreed to set up an NGO forum on sanitation for South Asia.
Many recommendations were put forward including more toilets for girls in schools, special toilets for children with disabilities, use of locality-specific technology, interest-free loans for sanitation purposes, allocation of plots for toilets in Slum rehabilitation projects, and priority to community toilets.