New Delhi: Two years ago, Rani Devi, a 56-year-old resident of Batoli village in Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand was at an open defecation site about a kilometre from her house with a sickle in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. As she squatted, at what she thought was a safe spot for her morning ritual, she saw a wild bear approaching her. She was terrified for a second but in spontaneous reaction, she climbed up a tree. However, Rani still sustained grave wounds and had to be admitted to a hospital. Rani was among the lucky ones. In another incident, last year, a construction worker died while he was defecating in a field and a leopard pounced on him.
Women and girls from the rural communities who were responsible for fetching water for the household chores were required to walk long distances and many times they had to face harassment from sexual predators.
Dinisha Negi, 22-year-old resident of a village in Tehri district who could not study after Class 5 and from a very young age was given the duty to fetch water along with her mother for a family of four recalls,
During those days, I had never imagined that we’ll get water so easily. My state has a number of rivers and the origin of two mighty rivers Ganga and Yamuna is also here but ironically, access to clean water was always a challenge for people in my village.
It was after the installation of water tanks, water filters and toilets at home, in Anganwadi centres and government schools that people like Rani and Dinisha were able to finally feel safe and not be bothered about arranging water or finding a safe place to defecate. The two women are among nearly three lakh people in over 1,000 villages in 11 districts of Uttarakhand who are able to live an easier life because of the water supply and sanitation project of Himmotthan Society, a Dehradun based NGO, which is an initiative of Tata Trusts started in 2001, with support from The Hans Foundations- a Public Charitable Trust established in 2009 with an aim to work in the areas of health, education and livelihoods and to provide financial aid to other NGOs working in the same area.
While talking to NDTV about the initiative, Vinod Kothari, Coordinator- WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), Himmotthan Society, Tata Trust said,
Our central objective has been creating equitable access to clean drinking water and basic hygiene and sanitation facilities for the poor and vulnerable people living in the rural areas. We are currently working in 11 out of 13 districts of Uttarakhand – Almora, Nainital, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar, Champawat, Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Pauri, Tehri, Uttarkashi, and hill areas of Dehradun. We have also partnered with the state government of Uttarakhand for implementing Swachh Bharat Mission in some parts of the state.
He further explained that due to the topography of the state with rivers flowing from top to down, the challenge is to tap water and bring it to the upper reaches of remote villages. Mr. Kothari said that where feasible, water is being sourced from natural springs and through rainwater harvesting that have been installed near individual houses, anganwadi centres and schools.
Integrated in the water supply and sanitation project are a host of other initiatives like gender empowerment, strengthening School Action Plans by focusing on building habits of children and parents around sanitation, raising awareness among the people on water, hygiene and sanitation. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Himmotthan Society has been focusing on promoting handwashing and raising awareness about preventive measures. Shweta Rawat, Chairperson and Founder, The Hans Foundation said,
In the COVID world and the post COVID world, nothing will be more important than water, sanitation and hygiene for preventing infections. We have embarked this initiative with our partner Himmotthan across Uttarakhand where we have educated people to stop open defecation as well as stop their farm animals from defecating near the sources of drinking water. People have now realised that those activities were causing immense harm and perpetual sickness among the people, especially children and also among the animals. Now, in this time of the pandemic, people have realised the importance of hygiene and sanitation as key tools in stopping the virus from spreading. So hopefully, these habits will continue after the pandemic as well.
She further said that through WASH programmes that were running in schools before the lockdown was imposed due to COVID-19, children were targeted as change-makers in the village. The initiative aimed at educating them early enough so that they can take the same habit back to their homes and also pass it on to their next generation when they grow up.
While acknowledging the gains made by the initiative, Ashwani Rawat, Deputy Education Officer, Nainital said to NDTV,
In Nainital, the WASH programme is being implemented in 26 government primary schools. Not only were toilets installed in these schools, the WASH programme also helped installing water pipeline, water filters, and dustbins. Through workshops, children were made aware about the using toilets properly and maintaining hygiene. I believe the girls in these schools have benefitted the most from this initiative.
According to Premlata Bahuguna, Principal, Government Primary School, in a village in Jakhan town of Dehradun, the school had a toilet since a very long time but it was mainly used by the male students. Himmotthan installed a toilet complex that greatly helped the female students, she said. Ms. Bahuguna added,
With separate toilets for girls in the school, we saw an increase in their attendance. There are 40 students enrolled in the school. Before the school got temporarily shut due to the pandemic, we also observed an improvement in the overall health of the children as they were regularly taught about washing hands frequently and maintaining proper hygiene. Even now, we try during online classes and interactions that we keep reminding children and their families to follow preventive measures in order to avoid contracting coronavirus.
As the country is opening up and states planning to reopen schools, Himmotthan is working on installing toilets and drinking water facilities in 78 more schools across nine districts of Uttarakhand. The organisation plans to gradually cover more schools and village communities in all 13 districts of the state by providing them access to basic hygiene and clean drinking water in the coming years.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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