- India has over 8 million dry latrines, requiring 1 Million scavengers daily to manually remove and carry the human excreta for the disposal many times on their heads with no protective gear. (International Dalit Solidarity Network, 2002)
- Over 77% of rural families in India do not have toilets.
- 29% of urban families in Indian do not have toilets. (Census 2001)
- 2 out of 5 people in India do not have access to safe water. (Census 2001)
- India loses 73 million working days annually due to sicknesses caused by unsafe water and lack of sanitation. (WASH Facts & Figures, 2003)
- 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. (WASH Facts & Figures, 2003)
- Only 40% of primary schools in India have toilets. (DDWS, 2003)
- At any one time it is estimated that half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases. (WASH Facts & Figures, 2003)
Water, hygiene, and sanitation are of the most important basic requirements needed to ensure public health, yet almost half of the world’s population (2.4 billion people) lacks adequate sanitation and one sixth of the world (1.1 billion people) has no access to safe and affordable water. The lack of these basic necessities is concentrated in poorer, developing countries, and affects both the urban and rural areas. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of all disease in the developing world is associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.
“Untouchability is repugnant to reason and to the instinct of mercy, pity, and love. No man can consider another man inferior to himself. He must consider every man as his blood brother. It is the cardinal principle of every religion” – Mahatma Gandhi
In India only 36.4% of the total population have latrines, making it one of the worst nations for sanitation coverage in the world. This results in widespread open defecation causing contamination of the water supply by leaching and runoff, and spread of disease through insect transport. Additionally, in India, there is the problem of dry, or basket-type latrines, which require manual removal of feces. The caste historically designated to do this work, the scavenger caste, is treated as inhuman, being shunned and looked down upon by others. Currently, India has over 8 million dry latrines, requiring 750,000 scavengers daily to manually remove and carry the human excreta for disposal many times on their heads with no protective gear. Not only is this work demeaning, but it is also highly dangerous. The improper removal of human waste causes scavengers to be infected and communicate to others many diseases. Therefore, such easily preventable diseases as diarrhea (the simple act of washing hands with soap and water can reduce diarrhoeal disease by one-third ), malaria, cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, and polio are the main causes of death in India, as well as in other third world countries.
“Any city that would attend to its sanitation in a proper spirit, will add to both its health and wealth.”- Mahatma Gandhi
Sanitation and water affect not only health, but other important aspects of life as well. The economy of India as a whole is impacted due to the fact that people must pay for visits to the doctor and may lose their jobs because of inability to go to work. Specifically, 73 million working days are lost annually due to sicknesses caused by unsafe water and lack of sanitation. Education is also impacted when girls drop out of school once they reach adolescence because of lack of privacy due to no toilet facility.
Rights of women are also tested as they are forced to wait until nightfall to defecate in order to preserve their privacy, only to face teasing and harassment by onlookers. The situation is such that in 2001 the United Nations declared sanitation to be one of its main priorities of the Millenium Development Goals, aiming to reduce by half the current population that lacks access to clean water and sanitation by the year 2015.
“No issue has ever been more neglected. And it is neglected because it is of concern mainly to the poor and powerless.”- Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the water, sanitation, and hygiene issue.
In the past, however, since water and sanitation are mainly a problem of the poor, the crisis has largely been ignored and disregarded. It is estimated that pneumonia, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and malaria, which account for 20% of global disease burden, receive less than 1% of total public and private funds devoted to health research. Few government agencies, academic institutes and NGOs are taking the initiative to either develop cost-effective technologies and implementation strategy or educate and motivate communities to adopt new technologies. The Environmental Sanitation Institute, along with its mother NGO Safai Vidyalaya, have been working for more than 40 years to implement proper sanitary practices like washing hands, using latrines for human waste, using soakage pits for wastewater, and using trashcans for garbage through both training and construction to improve these conditions.
“Toilets in our settlement are awful because they are not cleaned regularly. They are so dirty that when we squat inside, larvae crawl up our legs.” A slum dweller in Pune, Maharastra.
However, changing hygiene behavior is harder than it may seem at first. Because it is related to culture, tradition, environment, and economy, improving existing sanitary practices involves paying attention to the needs and desires of the community. In the past, toilets have been constructed only to be used as storage facilities. In other cases, people have not been informed about how to use and maintain the latrine, causing them to become unserviceable.
“Quality life-long education and learning opportunities are required for all peoples regardless of their occupation or circumstances. Without access to not only basic education but also higher education, nations will find development of any kind, let alone the much preferred sustainable development, very difficult. This education must also reflect the local culture and societal needs.”
In order to sensitize sanitation workers to the needs of the community so that their efforts are successful, proper training and education is a necessity. Training that is holistic and practical should be given at all levels, from professionals in the field of water and sanitation to grassroots NGO workers to village panchayats to ensure materialization of concepts as well as sustainability. ESI intends to fulfill this need by providing a center of excellence for water and sanitation to increase the capacity of field workers in the development sector and all related stakeholders. In this manner we will be able to continue our work in upliftment of the downtrodden, upgradation of rural and urban health, creation of environmental awareness, and betterment of the world’s sanitation situation.