Shit Happens.O.K? Chawm Ganguly

drawing-vintage-photo-effectThe World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that every gram of feces can contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs. Now multiply that by the number of Indians who are defecating out in the open, even as you read this and you will get just a glimpse of the enormity of problem that the Nation faces. And no – we are not even considering the ignominy a human faces when he or she has to overcome shame, unable even to access the fig leaf of a toilet, on a daily basis, round the year.

That inadequate sanitation kills people, spreads diseases, environmental pollution and diminishes welfare is universally known, what is not widely known however, is the economic cost of sanitation, or more precisely, the lack of it.

Diseases like Diarrhea, for example, have been conventionally known as water borne but many communicable diseases, diarrhea included, lead to inadequate sanitation – that is, having fecal origin – rather than being water borne, which only acts as a carrier of the germs and help spread the diseases.

If one were to look at the problem objectively, the obvious facts that surface are stark, stomach-churning and frightening. Lack of proper sanitation facilities which leads to open defecation have impact on the Health of the population due to premature deaths, costs of treating diseases; loss of productive time due to illnesses and the cost of time and effort of the caregivers.

Similarly, it impacts the water consumption all the way down to the household level and leads to the additional burden of treating household water, the time and cost of fetching water from a distance, a portion of the cost of piped water where it is available and the cost of packaged drinking water.

Add to this the cost of the additional time that is wasted for accessing shared toilets and open defecation sites and the socio-economic cost of girls and women being unable to attend – toilet-barred – from their schools and workplaces.

In hard currency, open defecation continues to be a huge deterrent to potential tourists to the country and those that arrive, invariably fall prey gastro-intestinal diseases, which too, extract their pound of poop.

One estimate, based on data that was a bit on the wrong side of effectiveness and using very conservative postulates, arrived at a figure of INR 2.4 trillion. Yes, that is an indicative amount of the economic cost of open defecation – upwards of US$ 50 billion. That’s a lot of money going down the drain that just isn’t there.

To address this issue of National shame, the Swaach Bharat Abhiyaan was launched.  The campaign aims to accomplish the vision of a ‘Clean India’ by 2 October 2019, the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi who had dared to dream of a clean India,  as free from the menace of open defecation as from the foreign yoke. And had actually picked up the broom, as opposed to restricting himself to the mere politically induced invective. Specific objectives of the mission are:

To eliminate open defecation by constructing toilets for households, communities; to eradicate manual scavenging; to introduce modern and scientific municipal solid waste management practices; to enable private sector participation in the sanitation sector and to change people’s attitudes to sanitation and create awareness.

Sad, isn’t it, how the National Mission had morphed into a photo-op even before the painted faces with their custom broomsticks moved on to their next new insta-activity? Lot of heat over shit, really.