Since independence in 1947, India has been committed to providing its population access to clean water and maintaining sanitation. Significant progress has been made since 1960, particularly in clean water, sanitation, and hygiene education. India has achieved a score of 56.6 percent in its advancement toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) so far. However, according to the State of India’s Environment Report for 2021, India’s ranking in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has dropped by two places to 117 compared to the previous year. This decline is attributed to the lack of sanitation, which is vital for public health and the economy.
Let’s delve deeper into why.
Dire Need For Hygiene Education In Rural India
In India, diseases caused by untreated water and unhygienic sanitation practices pose a significant public health crisis and severely affect women and children. Poor drainage systems and insufficient water conservation measures hinder sanitation in rural areas. Although the government continues prioritizing sanitation through various campaigns and initiatives, it is important to acknowledge that challenges still exist.
- The Ganges River is a vital water source for approximately 400 million nearby people. The government’s Namami Gange program has been instrumental in setting up 75 sewage treatment plants, implementing a river surface cleaning plan, and aiming to reduce pollution in the river.
- Open defecation and waterborne diseases are significant concerns in India, accounting for about 21 percent of diseases in the country. Around 91 million people lack access to safe water, and 500 children in India die from diarrheal diseases daily.
- Lack of proper toilets has been a leading cause of open defecation in India. Initially, only 32.7 percent of rural households had access to toilets. However, this figure has increased to 98.8 percent, with the construction of 92 million new toilets covering most rural areas. Research indicates a significant decrease in open defecation as toilet coverage rates rise.
- Cultural and societal factors also influence the preference for open defecation. Even in homes with toilets, some household members still prefer open defecation because they find it more comfortable and appealing than the available bathrooms.
- The absence of safe and private toilets increases the risk of sexual assault against women. Additionally, at least 50 percent of sanitation facilities remain unused or unused. Approximately 300 million women have limited access to safe bathrooms and, in extreme cases, this lack of facilities puts their lives at stake.
- Cleaning communal sanitation facilities during monsoon presents challenges due to flooded yards, making proper usage uncomfortable and sometimes impossible. Consequently, latrine floors tend to become dirtier in the rainy season compared to the dry season. In areas with high water tables, latrines can become filled and flooded, leading to the spillage of human waste onto the floor and the surrounding environment.
- Limited access to water in rural areas directly impacts children’s education. Children often spend their time and energy carrying water home instead of attending school.
- The Swachh Bharat (Clean India Mission) has achieved remarkable success, constructing approximately 1.5 million toilets in 2019 and over 100 million toilets in the past five years. By October 2019, 60,000 villages became open-defecation-free, and toilet coverage reached 100 percent of households in the state.
The government has shown dedication to expanding the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education program, providing water and urinal/toilet facilities and promoting health and hygiene practices in rural government schools. This effort began in the year 2005–06, with an emphasis on benefiting the girl child. However, it also relies on its citizens, NGOs, and corporations’ support to strengthen its initiatives and ensure their effective implementation, particularly within rural communities, to address the challenges above.
Is there any NGO in India supporting the government and working toward improving the country’s rural areas?
S M Sehgal Foundation
Since 1999, the top rural development NGO in India, S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), has been dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of rural communities. This nongovernmental organization operates as a public charitable trust and has a highly skilled and committed team. Together, they develop sustainable programs to tackle the most pressing challenges faced by rural India.
4.35 Million People Reached
With over twenty years of experience in sustainable rural development, Sehgal Foundation’s team has been actively working in twelve states across rural India. They work diligently to create and implement initiatives that encourage collective action and address critical rural development issues. The foundation emphasizes participatory research, the assessment of impacts, interactive dialogues, and community media to make well-informed decisions. Furthermore, they offer training and educational opportunities, all in pursuit of achieving lasting and positive results.
Sensitization And Awareness-Building For WASH Behavior Change
In the Vaishali district of Bihar, this project targets the most vulnerable rural communities, particularly daily wage laborers, in five hamlets.
The primary goal is to raise awareness regarding the importance of safe drinking water, the proper use of toilets, and the significance of handwashing. Through sensitization and awareness-building efforts, the project promotes positive WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) behavior.
Some case stories of individuals living in the study area who have adopted the use of tippy-tap handwashing stations:
Ashok Paswan from Khoksa Kalyan village of Vaishali district emphasizes the importance of handwashing in preventing illness. He and ten other hamlet families have constructed a tippy-tap handwashing station they learned about during community sessions. The convenience of having soap and water readily available encourages people to use it. Children, in particular, have taken a keen interest in this DIY technology and often compete to create innovative tippy-taps. The project incentivizes children by providing soap to those who install handwashing stations in their homes.
Usha Devi, a resident of Lakhanpur village, highlights the significance of washing hands thoroughly before cooking, eating, or using the toilet.
“Previously, going to the hand pump to wash hands was cumbersome, but having a tippy tap at home has made handwashing much more convenient.”
Shobha Devi, an ASHA worker from Khoksha Kalyan Ward No. 2, stresses that washing hands with soap is a crucial preventive health measure that can protect against illnesses. Scientific evidence confirms that soap and clean water are more effective at removing dirt.
Mamta Devi, a Mohammad Pur Lakhanpur village resident and an anganwadi worker, emphasizes the importance of thorough handwashing with soap and water, especially for children, after using the toilet and before meals, to maintain good health.
Radhika Devi, an anganwadi worker in ward number 6 of Lakhanpur Lal village, explains the proper steps for handwashing. She advises applying soap to both hands and rubbing vigorously for at least ten seconds. Afterward, she suggests rubbing the back of the hands, spaces between the fingers, the thumb, and the nails before rinsing the hands with water and drying them with a clean towel.
These stories from the community illustrate that with sensitization, awareness-building, and reinforcement, people adopt correct and consistent WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) practices in their lives.