New Delhi: The MDG goals related to water and sanitation for India are nowhere near being met. With people still being largely unaware of the link between sanitation, hygiene and health and simple practices like hand washing not being followed, diarrohea continues to claim more deaths than any other disease or medical ailment.
The WHO/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme for Drinking-water Supply and Sanitation report points out that there are 2.5 billion people globally who have no access to improved sanitation and 1.2 billion who have some access, but one that still does not tally with acceptable global standards.
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South Asia has the highest rate of open defecation in the world at 48%, which is double that of sub-Saharan Africa. Around 1.2 billion people worldwide defacate in the open, of which more than 50% (665 million) reside in India. Indonesia comes next with 50 million, way below the number we have of those using fields, roads, railway tracks, under-construction buildings to defecate.
Ladder concept to track sanitation and water usage trends
The report makes the assessment using an innovative “ladder” concept. This shows sanitation practices in greater detail, enabling experts to highlight trends in using improved, shared and unimproved sanitation facilities and the trend in open defecation. Similarly, the ‘drinking water ladder’ shows the percentage of the world population that uses water piped into a dwelling, plot or yard; other improved water sources such as hand pumps, and unimproved sources.
The number of people globally who lack access to an improved drinking water source has fallen below one billion for the first time since data were first compiled in 1990. At present 87% of the world population has access to improved drinking water sources, with current trends suggesting that more than 90% will do so by 2015.
The number of people practicing open defecation globally, dropped from 24% in 1990 to 18% in 2006. Disparities are evident within national borders, particularly between rural and urban dwellers. Worldwide, there are four times as many people in rural areas — approximately 746 million — without improved water sources, compared to some 137 million urban dwellers.
Vulnerability to disease
Kumar Alok, project officer, water and sanitation at Unicef, New Delhi points out that nearly 2,00,000 metric tonnes of human excreta is released in open spaces across India. One gram excreta has over a million viruses, which alone is responsible for nearly 1,000 daily diarroheal deaths among children. He says, that this is much more than SARS, Bird flu or any other epidemic and yet, the issue has failed to find strong advocates.
“At current trends, the world will fall short of the Millennium sanitation target by more than 700 million people,” said Ann M. Veneman, Unicef executive director, given the fact that recycling waste, especially in countries like India, is still considered a low brow subject.
Economic benefits of recylcing waste
According to Dr Margaret Chan, director general, WHO, “We have today a full menu of low-cost technical options for the provision of sanitation in most settings.”
“Entrepreneurial opportunities exist in the area of waste management but people are still very closed in their minds”, says Alok. Tourism, insurance, railways, telecom are some of the sectors that are developing various projects in India., he added
With Rs13,000 crore allocated annually for sanitation, India has the largest budget in the world. Not many, including potential users, are aware that the cost of setting up a basic toilet is not more than Rs450. Apart from reducing the disease burden, having the option of using a private toilet restores an individual, especially a woman’s right to dignity, and that itself is reason enough to make sure that people are gradually sent back from the fields to the confines of their homes.