- To meet sanitation goals by 2017, Nepal needs to focus on the Tarai
Nov 20, 2014-
Last week, in neighbouring India, the Gujarat state assembly passed a bill that makes it mandatory for anyone standing for public office to have a toilet at home. Existing members of the government also need to declare that they have a toilet at their residence within six months. Else, they face disqualification. While the ‘democratic’ nature of the bill is debatable, its objective is clear: to declare the state open-defecation free within two years. The Government of Nepal has a similar ambition, to ensure 100 percent of its population has access to toilets by 2017.
According to the 2011 Census, more Nepali households have mobile phones (63.6 percent) than proper toilets (61.8 percent). A more updated figure recently released by the Department of Water Supply and Sanitation shows that the percentage of people without toilets has now come down to 30 percent from 38.2 in 2011. But Nepal needs to do a lot more, particularly in the Tarai districts, if the 2017 goal is to be achieved in time. Sixteen out of 20 districts in the region have sanitation coverage less than the national average. Worse still, only 27 percent of the population has toilets in eight districts of the Tarai, extending from Parsa in the Central Region to Saptari in the Eastern Region, encompassing Bara, Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mohattari, Dhanusha, Siraha, and Saptari. The fact that these districts are heavily populated exacerbates the problem, as more people face health hazards.
Learning from success stories elsewhere in the country could be one way to go about. However, given the cultural differences between the Tarai and Hill districts, where efforts at curbing open defecation have been relatively successful, copying it in the plains might not yield much results. In Chitlang VDC in Makwanpur, for instance, the government began issuing identity cards to households that had toilets. Only those with the card were allowed to apply for citizenship and property certificates. Children blew a whistle if they saw a person defecating in the open and planted a small yellow flag with the name of the guilty beside their pile of faeces. This strategy might not work in the plains, where citizens already face problems while acquiring citizenship certificates. Also, open defecation is more widely accepted by communities.
To address this problem, there is a need to help local communities in the Tarai understand the need for sanitation. Towards that end, the agencies working for sanitation need to recruit people who speak the language of the targeted communities and understand their cultural sensitivities. Second, instead of imposing the centre’s programmes on sanitation, local authorities in the Tarai should be given greater autonomy to devise their own plans of action, in coordination with the locals. It should be left up to them whether they want a politician who has a toilet at home or not.
Published: 21-11-2014 09:57