By Somali K Chakrabarti
The importance of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in our lives cannot be stressed upon enough. We always try our level best to maintain sanitation and hygiene within our homes to provide our children with a healthy and clean environment. But, the lack of sanitation outside our homes affects us too.
Poor Sanitation is linked to Malnutrition
More than 50% of the population of India (around 620 million people) do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. India continues to be the country with the highest number of people practicing open defecation.
This makes it difficult to avoid microbial contamination caused by faecal matter seeping into ground water, resulting in diseases such as diarrhoea, weak immune systems, malnutrition, stunting and premature deaths in children. Studies suggest that poor sanitation in India might be a greater cause of malnutrition than the scarcity of food.
What we need to keep in mind is that the entire community pays the consequences of poor sanitation. Children across all income groups (not only from the economically weaker sections) are found to be affected by the contamination caused due to lack of clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities.
An article published in NY Times, in Sept 2014 states:
Stunting affects 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country’s richest families.
Water and Sanitation challenges
Urban and rural areas pose different challenges for sanitation. In less populated rural areas, sanitation products may not be available or households may not always prioritize sanitation over other expenditures.
In the densely-occupied urban areas, several pockets do not have space or expertise to properly dispose of waste, or well-coordinated systems and services for transportation and treatment of waste. This not only degrades the urban environment, and diminishes quality of life, but can also result in serious public health consequences.
Decentralization of Water and Waste Management
The problem is humongous for the Government to tackle alone. Hence, the Government has invited the participation of private sector to tap their talents, and resources to generate solutions to India’s water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and TERI University in collaboration with in collaboration with U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Coca-Cola Foundation, have undertaken a ‘Strengthening Water and Sanitation in Urban Settings‘ initiative to bring innovative solutions to improve water and sanitation services for India’s low-income urban populations.
Reaching out to 50,000 beneficiaries in low-income settlements, over 300 professionals through WASH governance studies, and 2,500 students through 20 municipal schools across India, the program aims to:
- Undertake study and analyse the risks due to improper sanitation in the slums of Kolkata and Chennai.
- Develop and implement strategies for reducing the WASH risks, and trigger behavioural changes,
- Engage faculty, students, and decision makers to help address the challenges related to sanitation and health.
Let us hope that the collaborative effort between the government and private entities will help in tackling the practical challenges of sanitation.
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1. Sanitation: Facts, Figures, Resources, worldbank.org
2. Progress on drinking water and sanitation 2014 update, unicef.org