Eliminating Open Defecation from the World

Today's post is about a young Indian girl called Babli. She must be around the same age as my 6-year-old son Rishab. Like any other girl of her age group, Babli too wants to enjoy childhood. One could tell merely by looking at her that she is raring to take on the world.

But Babli is poor, er, very poor.

When I first met Babli, I asked her what she wanted to become when she grew up. She choked with emotion speaking about her biggest desire.
"I would like to be a teacher, but I have to be able to live long enough."
She is often forced to miss her lessons due to diarrhea. Children like her frequently fall ill because of the lack of proper hygiene and sanitation. Her problem is made worse by the fact that she doesn't even have access to a toilet. Left with no other choice, she gets up every morning - before the crack of dawn - and is forced to defecate outside. Making it even harder to stay healthy and safe.

And you'd hope Babli's case was probably one-off. Now picture this. 
  • According to an estimate by the UNICEF, almost 594 million people in our country - that is nearly half of India's population - defecates in the open. The situation is particularly acute in poverty-stricken rural areas like the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh.
  • It is observed that toilet shortage, especially in rural areas, is fueling rape scourge, as women often become "easy prey".
  • The recent news of rape and killing of two young girls aged 12 and 14 in the Katra village sent shivers down the spine. The girls had walked to the wheat fields at night to defecate, only to be abducted by three men who gang-raped and killed them. The brutality didn't end there; the men hung the girls from a mango tree by their head scarves.
  • A top police officer in Uttar Pradesh reported that most women raped in the region were found defecating in open.
  • Among all the countries of the world, India tops in open defecation*, a fact that should put our heads down in shame.

[* Reference: The Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation report — 2014 update — released in Geneva.]


Why Defecate in the Open?


There can be several reasons why someone would practice open defecation: 
  • Lack of other alternatives like toilets not available or not attractive.
  • Toilets are available but they continue to stink (often true in case of shared or public toilets)
  • Toilets are filthy, dark, or unsafe.
  • People are culturally or habitually inclined towards open defecation.

Open defecation. Unimaginable in 85% of the world. The only option in the remaining 15%.


Let's start by understanding about open defecation. Most people who defecate outside have no choice. They often do it in the open spaces with little privacy.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

According to statistics released by the United Nations, around 1 billion people worldwide are forced to practice open defecation, causing diseases like diarrhea, worm infestation, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, reduced physical growth, impaired cognitive function, and under nutrition. Undoubtedly, one of the most apparent manifestations of extreme poverty.

Why it is that no one talks about it?

Let us break the silence


In 2013, for the first time, World Toilet Day was celebrated as an official UN day. Not only that, the term "open defecation" was introduced at the highest level, which drew attention to this issue.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

Open defecation is clearly an indication of a global sanitation crisis staring us in the face. Ending this practice is the need of the hour, and can help reduce hospital visits, missed school days, and worst of all, child deaths.

While speaking to Babli, it occurred to me that maybe every day children like her drink water mixed with their neighbors’ feces.

Did you know that The Ganges, which happens to be the largest river in India, is considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world? Every minute 1.1 million liters of human excrement enters this river. Disgusting to say the least!

What can we do to help Babli?


It is estimated that lack of access to proper sanitation and water supply, including the practice of open defecation, costs the poorest countries in the world a whopping $260 billion a year. What's even more concerning is that one third of the entire human population (2.5 billion people) still does not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or restrooms, with dramatic consequences on their health, dignity, and security.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

If you build a public restroom, you can prevent a child from dying every two and a half minute from a preventable diarrheal disease. You can also educate children and adults about the benefits of improved hygiene and sanitation.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

By doing your bit in spreading awareness about open defecation, you can help vulnerable population - including people with disabilities and women - from falling prey to sexual violence.

You can even urge school authorities to build private toilets, so that girls do not have to discontinue their education once they enter puberty.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

I am happy to report that Churu, a district of Rajasthan state of western India, will soon become an open defecation free district. UN has also vowed to eliminate open defecation from the world by 2025.

Finally, let us try to help young girls like Babli who can one day put all their worries related to proper hygiene, sanitation, and health to rest.

[Participate in the "You Click Domex Contributes" initiative at http://www.domex.in/You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing your support for the Domex Initiative. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.]