It is well known that the nation is suffering much more due to poor sanitation than anything else. The widespread practice of open defecation has highly negative impacts on the health of the surrounding community. Water born diseases like diarrhea and cholera are the results of the practice of open defecation. Every year, billions of rupees are going outside the country in treatment. Presently, about 5.5 million people do not have adequate water services, and 16 million lack adequate sanitation facilities. 94 percent households have access to improved drinking water sources in urban areas, compared to 78 percent in rural areas. However, the service level of urban water suppliers is generally poor. The national target of universal access to water and sanitation by 2017 is under a question mark. There is a wide gap between the present status of sanitation coverage, 43 percent, and the targeted universal coverage.
We have progressed from hunting-gathering age to post-modern age. We have changed our eating habits and use spoons instead of hands, we wear stylish clothing instead of remaining unclothed, we wear shoes instead of walking barefoot, and travel on air buses instead of bullock carts. But we haven’t been able to change our attitude to defecating in open spaces since the hunting-gathering age. We are very quick to copy western culture and style, but not their emphasis on sanitation and healthy living. The global society has progressed so much, but we Nepalis still have to convince each other to stop open defecation, and continue to expect support from government and donor agencies to build our own toilets. We are experts on giving ideas and sharing knowledge, but our behavior is still the same. What a shame!
The question here is not of whether spreading knowledge to stop defecation in open space is proper. The question is of our dignity in global society. Print and electronic media continuously disseminate knowledge of sustainable environment and healthy living, but we do not care! For example, diarrhea is largely a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) related disease and a major cause of infant mortality. Every year people are dying of water borne diseases like diarrhea and cholera, but we are unaware of it. The incident of Haiti could be an example. The spread of cholera took many lives in Haiti. A special investigation consultant from France declared that the cholera was caused by UN appointed Nepali soldiers, making our sanitation status notorious among the global community.
Every day in Nepal, we hear news of open defecation areas, the most prominent ones being in Sundarijal. People of Sundarijal VDC have complained to the Nepal Army appointed to protect Electricity production yard in Sundarijal, who were found to be directly discharging their latrine into the Bagmati River. If Nepal Army personnel, being part of a government body, are not aware of health and sanitation, then how can the locals be? There are many slogans about saving Bagmati, but again, no one cares. There are many NGOs, INGOs, CSOs and government agencies appointed to clean Bagmati, but most programs do not progress beyond documentation.
Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) is tapping water from different sources around Kathmandu Valley, but the water is not safe to drink without proper filtration. Some of the reservoirs are damaged, and garbage is found floating on top of them. Open defecation is found around most of the sources, and Valley dwellers are consuming it every day in the form of water. How long will it continue? How long will the people of Kathmandu have to drink polluted water? How long will people have to suffer from water borne diseases?
Due to media sensitization, the Project Implementation Directorate (PID) of Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) has belatedly realized the importance of the issue, and initiated awareness campaigns and workshops around the water tapping sources. One of the examples could be Sundarijal VDC. The Village Water Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Community (VWASHCC) of Sundarijal is very active, and has taken an oath to declare the area “open defecation-free” by May 8, 2013.
Having a latrine in the house is not enough to declare an area open defecation-free, the important part is having community toilets and stopping direct discharge of latrine into the water sources. There are some villages where latrines are built by the support of donor agencies, but people prefer to go to the jungle to defecate, and use the toilets as storage instead. Local people are not willing to change their behavior, but instead are demanding that some development projects be implemented in their locality in return for the government’s tapping of their water sources. KUKL/PID should address the demand of local people by building some community toilets and launching long lasting health and sanitation campaigns in their locality, so that the community people and valley dwellers can live healthy. There are a few physically disabled people and poor households who can’t afford personal latrines. In this regard, the people who are better off must support those who are not so well off.
Tourists and picnickers prefer areas with water sources and greenery for their outings. Such areas should be identified and initiatives taken to stop water pollution and sustain a healthy environment. Sundarijal, Mahankal-Chaur, Chapagaon, Pharping, Jhormahankal, Chahare, Bode, Mahadevkhola, and Manamaiju are sources used by KUKL. These sources need to be protected, and health and sanitation campaigns should be launched in these areas by PID/KUKL, similar to the one in Sundarijal VDC.
We valley dwellers are proud of our civilized status, but our reputation in international media says otherwise. Foreigners who visit Kathmandu skid on stinking defecation. Is this civilization? It’s not that there are no public toilets in Nepal. There are, but they are out of date. The government of Nepal has no time to think about it, so there are no maintenance activities. It is time to think it differently, and community people have to take the initiative. Community toilets need to be built so that the community members have ownership over it, and can directly monitor the facilities and keep them up to date.
The author is a sociologist