‘Improving sanitation in India will better world standards’

By Prashant K. Nanda

New Delhi, Nov 5 (IANS) Improving sanitation in India and providing access to toilets to a larger number of people will go a long way in reducing the problem worldwide, experts said, adding that every dollar spent on sanitation saved the country $9 in healthcare and other costs.

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“Around 2.6 billion people worldwide don’t have access to toilets, which means 40 percent of the global population are facing acute sanitation problems. Half of the Indians, let’s say over 500 million people, have no access to toilets and this makes the situation worse,” said Jon Lane, head of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council of Geneva, Switzerland.

“If India can improve its sanitation facilities, then it will be a global benefit. See, one out of every five people worldwide with no access to basic sanitation facility is an Indian,” Lane told IANS, urging “people and governments to introspect”.

Lane, whose organisation won this year’s Sulabh Global Sanitation Award, said people living in rural areas and those living in urban slums relieved themselves in the open.

“Open defection is degradable, it’s a shame for people, government and overall any civil society. It’s not that people want to defecate in open but they don’t have any alternative,” said the expert who was here to participate in the World Toilet Summit.

If the government spends $1 on sanitation it actually gains $9, he said, quoting World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics.

“Expenditure on sanitation will cut down the disease treatment costs and add to the country’s economy by helping people to work efficiently,” he explained.

Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said an improved toilet system would help India save at least Rs.5 billion every year.

“Due to poor sanitation, people in India face many health hazards, and in monetary terms the cost to the country for treatment of such ailments is Rs.2 billion and the loss of working days due to it is worth Rs.3 billion,” Kalam said during the inauguration of the summit last week.

“This Rs.5 billion can be utilised for the benefit of economically weaker sections of society.

“Ministries like rural development, water, poverty alleviation and social justice should join hands to provide adequate sanitation, specially the toilet system, to all Indians,” Kalam said.

Sanitation experts from 44 countries were here last week to discuss global sanitation standards and prepare an international roadmap to “provide toilets to all” by 2025.

Though the roadmap is yet to take final shape, experts said all participating countries had declared 2008 as World Sanitation Year, and both government organisations and NGOs would spread awareness among people.

“From next year onwards we are going to talk to policymakers on how to effectively mobilize people in this direction. If India needs to achieve the status of a developed nation, providing toilet facility to 100 percent population is a must,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, chief of Sulabh Internationals, a non-profit body working to improve sanitation in India.

“We need to take the community along with us for achieving this goal. Effective awareness campaigns through street plays, radio, TV and print media will be used in the near future by both India and global donor organisations for this purpose,” he said.

Jack Sim, president of the World Toilet Organisation, Singapore, said: “The World Toilet Summit in New Delhi was organised to sensitise the civil society and the government of India to improve their sanitation standard.

“I am sure after the summit the country is more aware about the global scenario and where it stands in this field. It is the right time to act and help the world get rid of this problem.

“If India improves, the world will improve automatically on the sanitation graph,” Lane added.

Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh echoed Lane’s views. “If India improves its sanitation standard, then small African nations will not take much time to improve their sanitation graph,” he said.

“In 1981 only one percent of Indians were using toilets. Five years back, only 22 percent had access to toilets and now (2007) 50 percent of them have access. We have launched a total sanitation campaign and hope to make the country open-defecation-free by 2012.

“Open defecation is a blot on our society and very degrading for our women folk. We hope we will achieve UN’s Millennium Development Goal of Sanitation by 2012, three years before target,” Singh said.