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Toilets and Water.

Sanitation as a subject of research or discussion always generates a certain hesitation and an instant reaction from ones bowel system. We have often heard people commenting on a discussion on sanitation “Please don’t spoil my appetite” or “I am feeling pukish” etc. Most of us still don’t want to talk of toilets or hygiene. As a country of 1.2 billion people we have tremendous amount of diversity and there are people with 27 floor houses with access to the best amenities to people who share a room with 5 other people and lack access to most of the basic civic amenities. We love to glorify the economic boom in India spurred by the tremendous growth in the past decade, at the same time fail to acknowledge that across the length and breadth of the country 600 million people still defecate in the open and 12 % of the population still lacks access to safe drinking water. Our railway tracks, bus terminals, markets all have a certain stink which characterizes lack of civic amenities as well as civic attitude.

Lack of sanitation and safe drinking water not only makes poor people sick; it also shrinks their already limited possibilities by forcing them to stay away from school and work. According to the UN , each year, children miss a total of 272 million school days due to water-borne or sanitation-related diseases. Hence, eliminating open defecation and providing safe drinking water is not only about ensuring provision of civic amenities, but it is also critical for the enjoyment of numerous other rights, such as the right to health, the right to education, the right to work and the right to lead a life in dignity (Ohchr, 2012).

Government of India started a flagship program called the Total Sanitation Campaign rechristened as Nirmal Bharat Abhayan to stop open defecation in 1999. Since 2005 the campaign has picked up steam and revised its target making India being open defecation free by 2022. One can map the current progress of these programs in the below link:

http://tsc.gov.in/tsc/Report/Physical/RptPhysicalProgessStateWiseDistrictwise

Even though there has been significant progress in provision of toilets, still many families which have toilets practice open defecation. This brings about an understanding that it’s not only provision that matters but also a change in mindsets. At this point I would like to share a story of a program on water quality being carried out in India on water quality in schools through a task force called the “Bal Sansad”. UNICEF  in collaboration with the Government of Jharkhand launched a  pilot program to train and equip school students for testing water quality in their schools.  The group of students in this program first collect water samples from a hand pump which is located adjacent to their school premises and then divide the testing work among themselves and test water for pH value and chemical contents such as iron, chlorine, fluoride, and nitrate. This exercise not only promotes knowledge among children about the importance of health and hygiene but also serves as a tool to monitor water quality for the local government (Unicef, 2010). The involvement of children brings about a community level change as the families tend to get involved in the day to day activities of children and learn from them. This program made sustainable and a part of the school’s curriculum can inculcate a culture of hygiene and knowledge of water quality. Students learn by practice and parents through them. Similar program in school sanitation like the school WASH campaigns which promote the use of toilets, educate and train students in health and hygiene have worked well  in the past, but can we make it a part of the schools regular curriculum. Health and hygiene training in school as a regular curriculum following a practical approach can go a long in promoting an understanding of the need for toilets as well as the right use of toilets.

” Can Sanitation be a part of school curriculum to serve as a tool for change???”

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