SANITY IN SANITATION
“Sanitation is more important than political freedom.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Humanity has been grappling with the problem of sanitation for as long as history can remember. It has proved to be one of our strongest enemies, resulting in events that have adversely shaped the human story. Plagues, the Black Death, Typhoid Marys and the fall of some mighty empires can all be attributed to one common factor — the lack of sanitation. Rome, which was once the epicenter of cultural revolution had its shortfall in indecorous sanitary plans, like public bathrooms called thermae. Its very huge population could not be accommodated in the city and made it breeding grounds for many diseases. A catastrophic disease that led to population decline in the early 1800s, was puerperal fever (also called childbed fever), where women suffered fatal abdominal pain, debility and death, post-delivery. It was caused due to improper handwashing by doctors, who did autopsies and then delivered babies with the same hands which had little pieces of the cadavers that they had dissected. Over time, improper sanitation has led us to a place where it will be difficult for us to survive without good, conscientious sanitary measures.
The maintenance of sanitation is not a woe of the past; unfortunately, it is still an issue prevalent in a developing country like India. Out of the 1.38 billion people residing in India, 91 million do not have access to safe water and a staggering 15% of our population defecates in the open. Vulnerable groups like the poorest of the poor, women and children bear a disproportionate brunt of this situation. Social and cultural disparities further compound the problem and give a unique colour to the sanitation crisis in India. Children are also more susceptible to communicable diseases and malnutrition caused as a consequence of it. The lack of toilets in schools prevents girls from attending them. The presence of appropriate facilities is not just important for women from a health standpoint, but also because of their greater need for privacy.
For people to undertake the required sanitation measures, it is important that they are made aware of them. This may not be a problem in urban areas, but in rural and remote areas, this should be the first step of intervention. Even after knowing the correct measures, people might refuse to follow them, especially when it interferes with their religious and cultural beliefs. Several misconceptions and myths can also arise at this stage, that may prevent the people of a community from maintaining proper sanitation. Many worry about the cost of building toilets and may not prioritize it over more pressing needs. It is a travesty that about half of India’s population does not have toilets at home. The state of public toilets in general also encourages open defecation and public urination.
In urban areas, the disposal of sewage in water bodies causes great environmental damage and major health hazards, in the form of waterborne diseases. One of the major health problems caused by contamination of drinking water is diarrhoea. Sanitation is important for minimizing the spread of intestinal worms, urinary tract infections and eye diseases. The UN General Assembly recognized access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right in 2010. The protection of human health through sanitation also has direct implications on a nation’s economy. Poor sanitation can have a ripple effect, when it hinders national development, as workers suffering from illnesses will lead shorter lives, produce and earn less, and will not be able to afford education and stable futures for their children. A safe and healthy community, rid of infections and diseases makes for happier living.
Over the last year and half, there has been a heightened awareness about the need for sanitation. The importance of following good, hygienic practices has been addressed by several organisations and the government. The issue of sanitation in India was first brought to the public eye by the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Alongside his struggle for independence of India, he was also continuously fighting for cleanliness, sanitation and efficient management of waste, throughout his life. Keeping Gandhi’s vision of a clean India in mind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or the “Clean India Mission” on 2nd October, 2014 — Gandhi’s birth anniversary. This campaign was launched to achieve universal sanitation and to encourage hygiene practices, while also aiming to make India ‘Open-defecation free’ by 2019.
This initiative truly led our country towards the path of cleanliness and the statistics prove the same. In 2015, half of India’s population — approximately 568 million people, practiced defecation out in the open, due to the lack of toilets. India alone accounted for 90 percent of the people in South Asia and half of the 1.2 billion people in the world that defecated in the open. But by 2019, these numbers reduced significantly. An estimated 450 million people now have access to toilets and proper sanitation measures. Above all, people are becoming more aware and understanding the need of following proper sanitation measures. However, ensuring the sustained use of toilets and hygiene practices is still an important concern.
The one goal we all collectively have is to see a better, brighter future. For this, we must realise that promoting healthier ways of living is not only imperative at the social level but also at the personal level. Along with public intervention, we need to maintain personal hygiene and cultivate an environment around us where these values are nurtured and carried forward. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, our first line of defence against the virus has been washing our hands frequently. The pandemic has made the relation between the human race and its need for a clean environment more evident than ever. These little habits of keeping ourselves clean and understanding the need of sanitation and hygiene will forever be a necessity. Much like charity begins at home, Sanitation begins with you and me, so let’s be sane and choose sanitation without any hesitation!
Written by Aarushi Sultania, Megha Shruti, Madhurika M and Srinidhi I