Building Toilets Key to Improving Public Health - The New Indian Express

Building Toilets Key to Improving Public Health

Published: 28th December 2013 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 28th December 2013 12:46 AM

The report that there has been a drop in the number of slums by 32 per cent since 2009 is heartening. The latest survey by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) has found that the condition of the slums has improved with a large percentage of the 8.8 million families staying in 33,510 urban slums enjoying comforts of electricity and toilet. Welfare schemes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, run by various governments and local bodies, have helped in this transformation. The slums are no longer just vote banks for the political parties in power. A distressing finding is that about 9 per cent of urban slum-dwellers still do not have access to clean toilets.

The condition of people in rural areas is worse. About 60 per cent are forced to defecate in the open causing public health problems. It is not an issue that cannot be tackled, particularly when a larger percentage of people have access to mobile phones and television receivers. It is a question of setting priorities. Government agencies like the Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity have, of late, been trying to instil in the minds of people the need to construct toilets. People need to be taught the hazards of open defecation and encouraged to build toilets which consume less water. Building toilets can be made mandatory to avail of certain benefits like bank loans.

In India water-borne diseases are very common in all areas. One of the reasons for this is open defecation as a result of which faecal material reaches water bodies, causing diseases. The amount of money spent on treatment of such diseases will run into tens of thousands of crores of rupees, though the actual amount can never be quantified. Thousands of people, young and old, die of water-borne diseases which are wholly avoidable. The loss of man hours is another unquantifiable entity. The cost of providing access to clean toilets to every citizen is only a fraction of this huge recurring cost.

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