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Despite Building Over 33 Lakh Toilets, Why Is Odisha Struggling To Meet Open Defecation Free Target By October 2019?

Despite over 3 years since the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Odisha’s sanitation coverage remains woefully low at 50.75% with only Deogarh district having achieved the ODF status

Highlights
  • Odisha’s sanitation coverage was mere 10.86% in 2014
  • Since 2014, sanitation coverage has improved but is still 50.75% only
  • Odisha has to construct over 30 lakh toilets to become ODF by October 2019

New Delhi: Considered to be one of the most under-developed states in India, Odisha is among the worst performing states in the country in terms of sanitation coverage. This is despite the fact that the state has built over 33 lakh (33,09,202) individual household toilets since the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Prior to the launch of the cleanliness campaign, the state’s sanitation coverage was mere 10.86 percent and after all the efforts of the last three years despite a 40 percent jump in sanitation coverage, the state remains amongst the low performing states with nearly half the population still without access to toilets. Odisha with 50.75 percent falls in the category of states like Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh in terms of sanitation coverage. Worried about the Odisha’s slow progress to end the menace of open defecation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently reviewed the sanitation work happening in the state and asked the officials concerned to specially coordinate with the state to attain open defecation free status by October 2, 2019 deadline.

Also Read: Fine of Rs. 50, If Found Defecating In The Open In Odisha’s Capital Bhubaneswar

Odisha’s Challenges

The poor sanitation status of the state can be attributed to issues like lack of infrastructure, delay in approval of applicants, negative attitude of people towards open defecation and lack of awareness among the beneficiaries about the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Bringing About Behavourial Change

Speaking on the issue of changing the habits and mindsets of people around hygiene and sanitation, Pratul Kumar Choudhary, the State Co-ordinator of Swachh Bharat Mission – Gramin said:

In the first year (2014) of Clean India Mission, Odisha battled with the issue of behavioural change as there was absolutely no motivation when we started to approach people in a bid to end open defecation. The success of the Swachh Bharat Mission is linked to the participation of the people. It depends on people changing their attitudes towards cleanliness, building and using toilets, and maintaining personal hygiene among other things. This means creating a ‘behavioural change’ in an individual is critical to help break old habits and norms.

Also Read: With Sanitation Report Cards And Swachh Walls As Their Weapons, Children From Odisha Slums Fight Open Defecation

According to the officials, the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities like door-to-door IPC (interpersonal communication), Swachhta raths, rallies, marathons, felicitation of champions, quiz and painting competitions for awareness generation and mass mobilisation of communities, have tremendously helped in making people aware of the ill-effects of open defecation.

From conducting awareness programmes in schools, organising workshops for gram panchayats to going door-to-door requesting people to build latrines, the Swachh Bharat Mission officials have taken help from women, children, Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and elderly to ensure that people understand the importance of adopting safe sanitation practices.

Public participation and public behaviour are actually the bedrock of any clean neighbourhood, city or country. Till each and every stakeholder contributes to and understands the value of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation, we cannot have a swachh India, says Shrigopal Jagtap, Head of Solid Waste Management at BASIX, a non-profit organisation.

The Logistical Hurdles

In terms of unavailability of space to construct toilets at home, one of the Swachh Bharat officials said, “Space is a huge issue in the state as houses here are small and there are limitations in terms of connecting sewage pipelines to the toilets or even installing a twin-pit toilet. Because of these limitations, people don’t prefer constructing toilets at home.”

Most of the houses are in the interiors where even the road connectivity is bad. In such cases, transporting raw materials becomes difficult and even if they are transported people refuse the proposal to even construct a toilet at home. With the consistent efforts and cooperation of the volunteers from Self Help Groups, we have managed to improve the sanitation coverage in the state but still a lot needs to be done, he pointed out.

Learnings from Deogarh, Odisha’s first district to become ODF

Odisha’s Deogarh district, where majority of the households are surrounded by lush green forests and most of the villages situated on hills, is a perfect example of how IEC activities can bring in about change in the attitude of people to end the age-old practice of open defecation. The district authorities appointed Sanitation 3500 Motivators from local Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to bring about behavourial change among people. These motivators went door-to-door to talk to villagers about better hygiene practices and told them about the government schemes they could avail to construct a toilet.

To help locals give up open defecation, initially the Sanitation Motivators introduced them to the ‘clay method’ wherein they were told to cover the human excreta with soil and clay. Each panchayat constituted a Nigrani (vigilance) committee whose members took to spreading awareness and enforcing the clay method. Gradually, families began building toilets, which they nowadays refer to as ‘swabhiman ghara’ or the room of dignity.

They also adopted triggering exercises like ‘walk of shame’, wherein people were taken to the sites of open defecation and were told how open defecation perpetuates a vicious cycle of disease – exposure to human waste affect children with health issues like diarrhoea, regular stomach upsets, poor overall health and other water borne diseases.

In this process of changing the attitude of people towards safe sanitation, awareness comes first followed by the construction of a toilet at home. Once a toilet gets constructed, we keep an eye on people to ensure they regularly use the facility and are not defecating the open, said one of the Sanitation Motivators.

Road Ahead 

Odisha stands among the worst performers in terms of sanitation coverage after Bihar with individual household latrine (IHHL) coverage of just 46.27 percent. The state government, with support from the Centre, has put in place campaigns and programmes for spreading awareness against open defecation. The annual swachh implementation plan for 2018-19 has made an outlay of nearly Rs 5,681 crore, of which the Centre will provide Rs 3,408.86 crore and Odisha Rs 2,271.94 crore.

Also Read: Japanese Company Gives Financial Aid For Improving Odisha’s Sewerage System

Notably, in order to expedite the process of toilet construction, the State Government last year posted a separate Director for drinking water and sanitation – Roopa Mishra, who is also the Mission Director for Odisha’s Swachh Bharat Mission programme. She has been spearheading the Swachh Bharat programme and on a regular basis holds meetings with the stakeholders to ensure that Odisha becomes ODF.

As for now, of the 30 districts in the state, only Deogarh is ODF.

The state government is now working hard to declare Balasore, Gajpati, Sambalpur and Sonepur districts ODF by the first quarter of the 2018-19 fiscal, while Jharsuguda district will become ODF within two weeks’ time, said an official.

With little over 1.5 years left for the 2019 ODF deadline, the state government will have to step up its toilet construction across the poorly performing districts, especially the ones with sanitation coverage less than 40 percent – Balangir, Cuttack, Jajapur, Kalahandi and Mayurbhanj. Odisha has to construct over 30 lakh toilets to become ODF by October 2019.

Also Read: Cleaning Up Jagannath Temple As Part Of The Swachh Bharat Campaign

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