Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, once said that sanitation is more important than independence, but after 66 years of independence this saying seems like going down the drain. 53% of Indian households (over 600 million people) practice open defecation. Less than one-in-three households in Indian villages have toilets. The situation in urban areas is not that good either. Urban areas have more toilets but nevertheless suffer from poor sanitation and disposal mechanisms.
Lack of toilets in various areas forces people to defecate in open areas such as agricultural waste lands, forest areas, coastlines etc. thus contaminating soil, water and food which in turn leads to alarming rates of water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, typhoid and other deadly infections. Absence of toilet or latrine is one of the major contributors of malnutrition.
Poor sanitation and the illnesses cost the Indian economy 255 million dollars a year (Health Ministry). More people in India have mobile phones than toilets.
India also carries the shame of manual laborers, belonging to community of untouchables’ to clean human excreta from open lavatories, even in 21st century.
It is easier for modern Indian women in the metros to walk into shopping malls and find a toilet. But it is not so for their underprivileged sisters who are poor and live in areas with no toilet facilities. Women and girls often defecate in public, harming their health and also inviting molestation and unwanted attention from men in both rural and urban areas.
We need to come forward and take some strict action to make our nation free from open defecation.
Possible Solutions to Combat the Situation:
- First we need to talk openly about the issue.
- Secondly we need to work together to spread the message and increase the impact.
- Third making sanitation a community- wide issue.
- Fourth empower those who work on the front line.
It is time for communities, leaders, and organizations throughout India to make eliminating open defecation a top priority because in order to build a developed nation, we first need to build a healthier nation.