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With the fact that nearly 35% of Delhi slum dwellers still practise open defecation, most of community and public toilets in the capital remains non-functional; the present scenario doesn’t seem to meet the goals of Delhi Master Plan for making the city Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2015. Ajay Sinha, Chief Operating Officer, Feedback Foundation Trust addresses the key challenges in achieving the goals.

Open Defecation: Health Outcomes

About 270 tonnes of faeces are discharged into the open environment leading to public health hazard, environmental pollution (CO2 and methane) and compromising the safety and security of the people, especially of the women. The unsafe disposal of human excreta imposes significant public health and environmental costs to urban areas that contribute more than 60% of the country’s GDP. As per the NUSP, impacts of poor sanitation are especially significant for the urban poor, women, children and elderly people. The loss due to diseases caused by poor sanitation for children under 14 years alone in urban areas calculated to amount to `500 crores at 2001 prices, and consequently, far higher amounts at current prices. About 60-80% of diseases can be attributed to faecal-oral transmission and ingesting of faeces by all irrespective of class, creed, religion and socio-economic status. There are reports that contamination of water aquifer is linked to faecal contamination. Diarrhoea is the second largest killer of children in India. Apart from diarrhoea and other faeces borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, stunting among children, malnutrition, recent rise in Dengue and Chikengunia – can be attributed to faeces and other wastes in the environment. The impact of open defecation is not only affecting the people in slums but also others living in urban Delhi as these faeces through faeces- oral track route by flies, fluid, food, fingers, air and others solid and waste.

Sanitation’s close links with health, education, malnutrition and poverty make it an important contributor to the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG).

Key Challenges

Non-functional community toilets: community and individual toilets are sanitation facilities used by people in the slums. However, community toilets constructed by various agencies such as MDC, DUSIB and NGOs are generally found to be non-functional because of various reasons. Based on the survey carried out in seven slums in South Delhi, it was observed that out of six community toilets constructed by various agencies at some point of time, none of them are in use as shown below. In fact all these toilets are in dilapidated conditions.

– Awareness creation does not bring about behavior change. This is a first step to behavior change. As a result, people are aware about the ills of open defecation but it has not translated into behavior change.

– Subsidy has been a barrier to total sanitation. People spend money on treatment of diseases due to open defecation but not willing to construct the toilet.

– Conventional IEC strategy such as poster, hand-outs, leaflets, pamphlets, wall writings, songs, skit etc has not been effective behaviour change. Alternative triggering tools and techniques have been very collective behavior change.

– Focusing on toilets does not impact sanitation outcomes. The focus should be on collective behavior change. Even 1% defecating in the open puts the health of everybody at risk.

– Focus on limited technology options deter people to go for no-low cost technology options.

Model diagram of a leach-pit safe toilet

The comparative advantages and disadvantages of community and individual toilets, in the context of slums, are given Table 2.

Individual toilets are the preferred choice compared to community toilets in any settlement. The land (space) required for construction of an individual toilet is 2x2m. Individual toilets are safe and within the reach of any individual in the house – be it women, children or the aged. The ownership of community toilets is low as compared to an individual toilets and the maintenance of community toilets becomes a tall order unless one has a committee formed to look after the O&M of the same with proper zeal to do so. Mobile toilets in such settlements are never a preferred choice, since they are primarily meant to cater to floating / mobile population (like during melas/events of short duration or even static population for a certain period like workers in construction site etc.). It can never be a permanent solution for a static population. Cleaning of mobile toilet (sludge) is also a problem these days as scavengers are not available and dumping of the sludge in any place is hazardous.

“Besides the lack of operation and maintenance, the main reason for open defecation is that urban communities are unable to establish the invisible direct link between open defecation and how it affects them and others, impacting everybody’s health, dignity, privacy and convenience. Therefore, the focus should be on changing the ‘collective behaviour’ of the entire population as one person defecating in open can put everybody at risk.”

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