Nepal was formally declared an open defecation-free (ODF) country on September 30. All the seventy-seven districts of the country have now been declared ODF districts. With this declaration, the country has become the first ODF country in the South Asian region. The country was able to attain the ODF status after setting out on an eight-year-long odyssey. The mission of attaining the glorious status of ODF got off the ground with the launch of the Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan in 2011 AD. Since then, the government initiated various sanitation programs, including the construction of toilets, to achieve the ODF status as part of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Initially, the government planned to declare the country an ODF country by 2017. However, the goal could not be attained despite concerted efforts on the part of the government, development partners, communities and other concerned bodies. Although the initial deadline was missed, the country has been able to be the first ODF country in the South Asian region, which is a matter of pride and glory.
The ODF campaign included, among others, constructing toilets in every household devoid of any toilet across the country. As per the data released by the National Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Committee, around 5.66 million toilets have been constructed at the household level throughout the length and breadth of the country. No subsidy was provided for those households that lacked toilets unlike in India, where subsidies were provided for people to construct toilets. The ODF declaration is related to SDG No. 6, which emphasises, inter alia, the universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, the access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and an end to the practice of open defecation with a special focus on the needs of vulnerable people like women and girls.
Open defecation is directly linked to public health and sanitation. It pollutes the environment and contaminates surface soil, surface water and groundwater. Open defecation is a cause of morbidity, mortality, under-nutrition, poverty and widening chasms between the haves and the have-nots, among others. It is also indicative of lack of personal dignity and a stigma in societies where this unhealthy practice is rampant. Open defecation is responsible for the incidence of diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, enteric infections, typhoid, cholera, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, poliomyelitis and trachoma. In communities where open defecation is practised, malnutrition and stunted growth in children have been observed.
In 2015 AD, India had the highest number of people practising open defecation at 524 million, which represented a whopping 40 per cent of its total population. However, the efforts of the Indian government at ending open defecation through the Clean India Mission have borne fruit; the country is being declared the second ODF country in the South Asian region on October 2. On the other hand, China had 28 million people, or two per cent of its total population, practising open defecation in 2015 AD.
Although attaining the ODF status is a breakthrough in the field of sanitation, there is growing dissatisfaction, especially among the Kathmanduites, that the government hurriedly declared the country an ODF country without keeping the required infrastructure in place. Their disgruntlement is related to lack of public toilets. As Kathmandu is a melting pot inhabited by people from almost all the districts and frequented by visitors and tourists, the number of public toilets is disproportionately low. At present, there are 62 public toilets in Kathmandu, out of which only 28 are in working condition, while the rest require immediate repairs and maintenance to make them functional. Some time ago, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) identified 69 places for constructing public toilets and made a plan accordingly but the plan could not get off even the drawing board. Afterwards, the KMC proposed that people use the toilets located at gas stations, shopping malls, etc. but the idea turned out to be unviable. Without taking the initiative in constructing additional public toilets, Kathmandu was declared an ODF district the other day, which has incensed the Kathmandu denizens.
It may be noted that the KMC issued a notice the other day regarding the management of dog poo by the dog owners themselves with provision for a fine for those who allow their dogs to defecate in the open. There is a tendency among the dog owners to take out their dogs and allow them to urinate or defecate in the open, which is a bad practice. However, the practice has not ended but no action has been taken against the erring dog owners.
Anyway, with the attainment of the ODF status by the country, the responsibility for maintaining that status has increased on the part of the three tiers of government- federal, provincial and local. In the post-ODF scenario, the government should see to it that the existing public toilets are maintained or upgraded, additional public toilets are constructed as required, wastes are properly managed, behavioural changes regarding personal hygiene among people are effected through public awareness campaigns and other measures designed for the upkeep of a clean environment are taken in time.
Furthermore, it behoves the local bodies to monitor the ODF status in their areas. They should also figure out where additional public toilets are required and take the initiative in constructing them without delay. The local bodies should also manage the homeless, beggars and street children, who often practise open defecation. After all, notching up the ODF status is a great achievement but perpetuating that status is a great challenge.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)