Expectations go up for government’s ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the ‘Global Goalkeeper’ Award by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the sanitation scheme on Tuesday in New York. The award ceremony took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York.
Prime Minister dedicated the award to those Indians who transformed the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan into a mass movement and made it a part of their daily lives. “The success of the Swachh Bharat Mission is due to the people of India. They made this their own movement and ensured the desired results were attained," Modi said after receiving the award.
Terming it as a significant moment personally to receive the award on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Prime Minister said Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is proof that when 130 crore Indians take a pledge, any challenge can be overcome.
“India is making remarkable progress in fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a Swachh Bharat. In the last five years, a record of more than 11 crore toilets was constructed. This mission has benefitted the poor and women of the country the most. In addition to improving sanitation and health, building of 11 crore toilets has also boosted economic activity in villages," he said.
Talking about improving global sanitation coverage, Prime Minister said that India is ready to share its expertise and experiences with other nations, so that there can be collective effort towards increasing sanitation coverage. Prime Minister also mentioned about India’s efforts towards preventive healthcare through mission mode movements like Fit India Movement and Jal Jeevan Mission. Public health experts have said that with the award, India will need to upkeep the success of the scheme as it is directly and indirectly helping the country in attaining good health.
“The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been instrumental in saving over 3 lakh lives from protein-energy malnutrition and diarrhoea related deaths in the last five years. Unsafe sanitation was responsible for almost 200 million cases of diarrhoea every year before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched in 2014. These have steadily decreased over the years and we are close to achieving full elimination with universal use of safe sanitation facilities. The movement has also been successful in avoiding over 14 million Disability Adjusted Life Years over the last five years," said Rajesh Ranjan Singh, COO, Wadhwani Institute for Sustainable Healthcare (WISH).
The problem of open defecation was long recognized as a sanitation concern in India. However, it is the first time that a government has initiated such concerted efforts to eliminate this problem. Improvement in sanitation services, drinking water supply, waste management and personal hygiene are crucial to reducing the incidence of both vector-borne and water-borne diseases.
“We hope that the move towards competitive-cooperative federalism makes the mission a success in all the states and ends up affecting a complete elimination of communicable diseases caused by poor sanitation and hygiene. We also need more strong community-based programme to prevent vector-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya which have become a major menace," said Singh.
A sanitation survey conducted under World Bank supervision found that 90.4% of villages are open defecation free now and 93.1% of rural households have access to toilets. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that this initiative that has tremendously improved sanitation and hygiene levels in the country which in turn has the potential to save thousands of lives by reducing the incidence of diarrhea and malnutrition. When it reaches its full potential, the mission will have played an important role in reducing the incidence of communicable diseases in India.
“The intangible effects include the significant improvement in quality of lives of women for whom open defecation was both difficult and unsafe. In this light the Global Goalkeepers Award to Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a well deserved one. We hope that the mission continues to work towards not just eliminating open defecation completely but also to bring about a change in the mindset of people towards following better hygiene and cleanliness in the country," said Shankar Narang, COO, Paras Healthcare, a chain of healthcare institutions.
Public health experts have also said that the award will give a fillip to the Clean India Mission and is a well-deserved recognition for India’s efforts towards making India an ODF nation. More than 5.6 lakh villages have become Open Defecation Free (ODF). What makes it more significant is the timing, being awarded in the year of Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary, however, the effort needs to be sustained through behavioural change and technology.
“We have to build on this success through - concerted efforts via social messaging, education; subsidies to vulnerable social groups to help them construct toilets at home and monitoring its continued usage; continued maintenance of ODF status after a village, block or district is declared ODF; Motivation of volunteers to check the condition of sanitation, and offering them good incentives is necessary; a participatory approach by involving communities and tackling cultural and mind-set issues. I now propose to expand the Swachh Bharat Mission to undertake sustainable solid waste management in every village for a cleaner and healthier India," said Ashwajit Singh, managing director of IPE Global, an international development consulting company.