UN lauds India’s sanitation campaign


New Delhi : The Total Sanitation Campaign being run by the Indian government and NGO Sulabh International has been lauded by the UN at the start of the International Year of Sanitation 2008.

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Chairman of the UN Secretary General’s advisory board on water and sanitation, Prince of Netherlands Willem Alexander said at UN headquarters Wednesday: “In India I saw the positive results of the Total Sanitation Campaign, a good example of social innovation implemented by the government.”

“Sulabh International has proved how effective small-scale solutions can be and how they can be extended all over India within a short time span. Thousands of ‘pay & use’ public toilet-cum-bath complexes and more than a million pour-flush latrines in private houses have been built (and are maintained), and they are used by more than 10 million people every day.

“By doing so, Sulabh has restored human dignity and a new future to thousands of untouchables,” Alexander was quoted by a Sulabh spokesperson as saying.

For more than three decades Bindeshwar Pathak, who founded the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, has been promoting toilets that are cheap to build and don’t require a sewer connection.

Pathak, inspired by India’s freedom icon Mahatma Gandhi, kicked off his mission after he lived with a community of “night soil scavengers” for a few months in the 1970s.

Alexander said, “Relieving yourself in hazardous places means risking everything from urological disease to harassment and rape. Many examples show that self-esteem begins with having a safe and proper toilet facility.”

“Everyone has a right to sanitation,” he reminded policymakers.

Sanitation for all by 2015 is one of the millennium development goals (MDG) of the United Nations. “But at the current rate of progress, we will not reach our 2015 MDG target on sanitation before 2026,” Alexander said.

In the International Year of Sanitation, Alexander wanted to “raise awareness of the importance of sanitation and its impact on other millennium development goals”.

He described the water supply and sanitation conditions in slums as “downright appalling”.

Alexander wanted to “encourage cheaper small-bore sewerage systems, pit emptying facilities, low-cost septic tank sludge treatment methods and the development and marketing of biogas technologies which can help supply many poor households with energy”.

He reminded his audience of the contribution of sanitation to development.

“Every dollar invested in water and sanitation triggers seven dollars worth of productive activity. And good money can be made from sanitation, through the production of fertilisers.”