NEW DELHI — Polio, Giardiasis, Hepatitis A, Diarrhea, Cholera: these are only a few of the many infectious diseases caused by poor sanitation and as one of the leading causes of poor sanitation, open defecation is a leading culprit in public health issues in rural populations. They are also the diseases that claim the highest number of children under the age of five years old each year.
The world has seen progress with a drop of about 300,000 people who openly defecate since 1990. Additionally, Bangladesh and Vietnam, who had one in every three people openly defecating in 1990, both exterminated the practice by 2012.
However, one billion people around the world today continue to defecate in open spaces such as gutters and forestry. Of these people, 90 percent reside in rural areas. Not only does this issue continue to exist in the world today, but in some areas, open defecation is on the rise. For example, Nigeria, one of 26 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa experiencing increases, saw a rise from 23 million in 1990 to 39 million open defecators in 2012.
The country with the largest amount of open defecators by far, however, is India, with over 600 million people disposing of their waste without proper sanitation.
Seventy percent of rural Indian populations don’t use toilets or don’t have access to one, and 28 million Indian children don’t even have access to proper toilet facilities in their schools. This leads them to the only option they have: open defecation near their home, of which their mothers are usually responsible for disposing.
Not only is the presence of defecation in public unpleasant, as Maria Fernandez, a UNICEF coordinator in India, explained, but also it is hazardous. In 2012, a quarter of children who died from diarrhea were Indian. Additionally, scientists have found that constant exposure to fecal matters can contribute to stunted growth, which affects nearly 61 million children in India.
Open defecation’s link to global poverty is simple: Improper sanitation and open defecation lead to contaminated water sources, soil and land. This is what creates the health crisis. Once blighted by disease, families are stunted in their abilities to go to school, work and provide for themselves. Children who can’t go to school can’t find jobs once they grow up, and the older population requires care once attacked with disease. Thus, the poverty cycle continues.
The problem isn’t only a lack of attention or funding on the part of the Indian government. Rolf Luyendijk, of UNICEF, explained that India has indeed provided billions in sanitation funding in the past. The issue is in control of this funding, as when it is passed down to regional governments, they choose how to spend it. Even when the money is actually spent on latrines, the citizens aren’t informed of the issue and the necessity of using proper toilets.
However, India is taking action in partnership with UNICEF in a campaign coined “Take Poo to the Loo.” With this movement, the UN aims to target India’s large numbers of open defecators to reach a goal of eradicating the practice globally by 2025.
The campaign was sparked by a comical, yet controversial video, that has gone viral on the Internet featuring a cartoon musical calling for reformation of open defecation in India. India is the focus of UNICEF and the World Health Organization due to its incredibly high numbers of open defecators, the lack of awareness about the issue and the failure of past efforts to reform the situation.
Critics of the campaign say that it is too simple and that the issue is not only Indian citizens’ attitude, but also the lack of sanitation facilities. UNICEF replied to critics that the campaign is not meant to replace rural development initiatives, but merely compliment them. The UN organization has stressed that development of sanitation facilities is imperative. However, without awareness and a change in the stigma of open defecation, nothing will change.
For example, Vijayaraghavan Chariar, a sanitation expert at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology, stressed that defecating outside has been the natural choice for centuries. He explained that some “don’t see a connection between open defecation and poor health.” Therefore, it is not only a lack of proper facilities that is the problem, but the cultural and social institutions of rural Indian populations regarding sanitation practices.
UNICEF is hopeful that this campaign, along with continuing and establishing rural development initiatives and sanitation construction throughout India, will lead to a decline in open defecation. The organization also intends to set an example for other countries, such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa, to address open defecation and sanitation as vital issues to address.
Hopefully their goal of eradicating open defecation will become a reality in the year of 2025, preventing millions of rural families from falling victim to sanitation-related diseases, pulling them further out of the hole of poverty.
Sources: Huffington Post 1, Huffington Post 2, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Poo to Loo.com