Published Friday , on 31 January 2020, 13:36:45 by Christophe Hitayezu

The Government of India has been doing its best to make the country Open Defecation Free (ODF) for years. 33.8 per cent of Indians was defecating openly in 2014 (World Bank), it was a shameless habit to the home of more than 1.36 billion people, India. Out of the 10 persons defecating in the open worldwide, six where Indians, that placed the country at the top of the global sanitation crisis.

Five years ago, when Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi launched the ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Campaign), he had announced October 2, 2019, as the day India will be free of open defecation – a claim he made in a speech on the Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in October 2019.

"In 60 months, 600 million people have been given access to toilets, more than 110 million toilets have been built. The whole World is amazed to hear this," Modi told a crowd in Ahmedabad city.

Before the Swachh Bharat Mission started, only 39% of households had access to a toilet. Yet a World Bank-supported national survey that concluded in February 2019, found 10% of people in rural India defecated in the open, and 96% of people who had access to a toilet used it. The government now says 100% of the country has toilet coverage.

Additional Secretary of the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation in the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Arun Baroka, said behavior change was the main challenge for the Swachh Bharat Mission.

“The most important challenge was the behavior change, for that reason we focused on communication strategies to deal with behavior change. Other issue was the scale, India is a very big country, it’s challenging to take care of 18 million household with different languages, different culture, different topographies, different habits, …,” Said Mr. Arun in January 2020, during a press conference with a team of African Journalists.

“Many times, going out for open defecation was also associated with religious aspect, people would like to go near the river for defecation and then wash themselves in the river. Even though they call the river holly – In Hinduism, the river Ganges is considered sacred and is personified as the goddess Gaṅgā – but they clean themselves in the river,” he added.

Mr. Arun said everyone in the country had contributed to the campaign’s success, Bollywood stars and filmmakers brought the issue to Indian screens, giving example of the successful “Toilet: EK Prem Katha” Movie of women refusing to get married unless their prospective husband’s house had a toilet.

He said within Swachh Bharat Mission, they was incentive that is given to poor family which manage to construct a toilet. For the first phase, the financial package is Rs12,000 (US$169) per family and will continue in phase two, he added the government has allocated US$12 billion for incentives.

As by figures endorsed by the United Nation’s Organizations, the Swachh Bharat Mission saves lives – 300,000 diarrheal deaths have been avoided (WHO 2018) – and earns money for the family – Rs50,000 (US$705) saved every year on average by a household in an ODF village due to health costs avoided (UNICEF 2017) – and it saves the environment – 12.70 times less likelihood of groundwater contamination traceable to humans in ODF villages (UNICEF 2019) – and has also improved nutrition and productivity of Indians.

Churu, a sanitation model district

Churu, a 13,858 km² district in Rajasthan State with more than 2.2 million people, was the first to declare itself ODF in India.

“In June 2012, a total of 29 village heads were called at the district office to be motivated and commence the campaign. In October 2012, all villagers were called in a meeting where they promised that within a month, they will declare themselves ODF,” said Roranglal Suthar, the Deputy Village head of Baniyala Village, Tara Nagar block of Churu ditrict.

A toilet, Baniyala village

Addressing a team of African Journalists on 22nd January 2020, in the Exposure Sanitation Tour organized by the Centre for Science and Environment ( CSE-India), the district collector, Sandesh Nayak, said that Churu was leading, they took the initiative and started with the ’Chokho Churu’ (Clean Churu) campaign. Tara Nagar in Churu district became the first ODF block in the state.

With the support of public representatives, officials, employees, media and general public, this district with adverse conditions proved itself to be the leader in Swachh Bharat Mission.

"We had a very successful campaign, ’Chokho Churu, it helped us in getting rid of open defecation. We concentrated our efforts on community mobilization, public meetings and other mass awareness programmes. We were able to change people’s mindsets by making them conscious of hazards related to open defecation. As a result, people were pepped up to construct toilets themselves," said Mr. Sandesh.

He said that the government incentive amount brought enthusiasm and awareness among the people, but in fact people built toilets costing much more than this amount.

Another successful initiatives is the formation of Self-Help Groups (SHG), which are savings and credit groups formed by poor women to collectively manage billions of rupees, the Indian currency.

Completely covered with veil in their faces, women very scared of talking in front of men for religious reasons, resident of Baniyala Village, Tara Nagar block of Churu district, joined together to form women groups of four and conducted a door-to-door campaigns expressing why toilets are required. “People used to go out in the early morning to defecate openly, but now they don’t go out anymore,” said Sulochana Jat, a resident on Baniyala village.

“We are no longer getting up early in the morning for defecation because we now have toilets and we can go at the toilet at any time. We even no longer see flies that used to transmit diseases from human excreta.” Said Santosh Brey, a resident of Baniyala village.

Women in Baniyala Village sharing their experience

The district collector also said that toilets were not a priority for the people of this area dependent on monsoon farming and poverty. Lack of water were one of the reasons for this, but when the campaign started, it was linked to the need, health and pride of the people. People were explained how shameful for such women who put a veil on their face, to go in the open for defecation.

Rural networks of various departments like health workers, Gram secretaries, teachers etc. were also associated with the campaign. When people were triggered in many ways, people started building toilets and their behavior also changed.

Water for proper sanitation

The scarce drinking water for people in Churu is among challenges, the Swachh Bharat Mission couldn’t be achieved if nothing done in water supply. As part of the desert, the area receives about 300mm of rain. It rains only two months in a year (July and August).

The area is full of sand dunes. The rainwater gets absorbed fast in the sandy soil and therefore there is hardly any run off.

Mahendra Kumar, the Executive engineer in the government body, said the government pays a subsidy of 90% to every household for construction of a 20,000 litters underground tankers worth Rs100,000 (US$1,500) and the beneficiary contributes 10%. The rainwater collected must be efficiently managed only for drinking purpose.

By its flat surface, a tanker harvests rainwater for drinking purpose without further treatments

He said for the 500 households in the Baniyala Village, 201 tankers have been built so far, and the initiative is ongoing.

The community contribution for the facility is mainly part of loans from Self Help Groups. The money collected as repayment of loan is used as revolving grant to help more families construct the tankers by taking loan. The loan product for rainwater harvesting structure is unique and probably first of its kind.

Lesson for Africa

Today, about one-fourth of the 892 million people defecating in the open around the world live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2000 and 2015, around 18 per cent of the countries in western Africa, 31 per cent in eastern Africa, 25 per cent in southern Africa and a whopping 66 per cent in central Africa showed deterioration in the state of open defecation (The Centre for Science and Environment - CSE-India 2018).

The two main actions of India towards ODF, are mindset change and financial support. To change mindset of people doesn’t require legal enforcement that may leave a number of them detention stations and empty-pocketed over penalties as it is done by some African countries like Rwanda when implementing various programmes that require people’s mindset change.

A very important lesson from India, is that the mindset change is not a legal issue, but a social and community concern. People themselves, through different campaigns and awareness, understood why toilet is a necessity for their health and pride, it only requires some incentives to motivate best practices.

Ownership and multi-sectoral involvement – NGOs, cinema industry, musicians, etc. – should inspire Africa — the spirit of working together for the common goals and concerns.

African countries may also learn valuable lessons from the media campaign launched under Swachh Bharat Mission, where the message was constantly broadcast through over 800 TV and 230 radio channels across the country. This leaves no stone unturned to ensure that the message is loud and clear.

Sustainable sanitation solutions for poor communities have the potential to solve a range of social and environmental challenges. But they can do more. They can also be implemented in developed areas as a more sustainable practice compared to the classical sewage system.

In her presentation to eight African Journalist in India for Sanitation tours – From Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Djibouti – Sunita Narain, the Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE-India) and Editor of Down to Earth Magasine, reminded that toilets must be affordable – need water, need management of excreta. “Otherwise we will transfer problem from health burden because of lack of toilet to health burden because of pollution,” she said.