By Mekonnen Teshome Tollera

All villages in India have declared themselves Open Defecation Free (ODF), Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in early October 2019, announced. India amazed the world by building 110 million toilets for 600 million people within 60 months.

The Indian government’s announcement was not a common and a regular type of news; rather it has been one of the development milestones achieved at the entire global level. Previously, out of the 10 persons defecating in the open worldwide, six were Indians, that placed the country at the top of the global total sanitation crisis. In 2014, India accounted 60% of the world’s open defecation.

However, now open defecation and sanitation have become Africa’s primary development and health care challenges, according to Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) – India.

This was stated on January 21, 2020 during a four-day Exposure Visit-cum Briefing Tour to India- “The Sanitation Tours” organized by CSE for a team of African journalists.

Director General of CSE and Editor of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth, Ms Sunita Narain believes that though India still has a lot to do to ensure dependable total sanitation, it has achieved a great deal and some African countries can learn out of it.

For Ms Sunita, India’s rural sanitation story has been successful due to top political interest, the focus on behavior change (nudging people to use the asset created) and the provision of subsidy for people to build toilets.

Nevertheless, she said: “Still we have to do more in ensuring sustainability of the effort and better management of waste materials.” 

One of the rural Indian toilets built in Baniyala village, Churu District

Drinking Water and Sanitation Additional Secretary with the Indian Ministry of Jal Shaki Mr. Arun Baroka said: “If India could not achieve the global Sustainable Development Goal on health and sanitation [SDG6], then it is also impossible for the whole world.”

The Additional Secretary also told the visiting reporters that India’s sanitation success is attributed to the attachment of primary and top level political commitment, high public participating and the availing of public funds.

He said that the Indian government has set aside 20 billion US dollars disbursed to local administrations mainly to build toilets for the people.

“The leadership at all levels has played a critical role in the realization of the country’s open defecation free status. For example, the Prime Minister himself wrote letters to 700 districts calling for their active participation in the campaign dubbed as ‘The Swachh Bharat Mission’,” he said.

The effective communication strategy that has included famous Bollywood actors and film production to village volunteer women is bearing fruits, said Mr. Arun.

Collector [Chief Administrator] of Churu District of the Rajistan State, Mr. Sandesh Nayak also pointed out that though the district is one of the water-scarce and poverty stricken in India it was the first to declare open defecation free.

According to Mr. Sandesh, the community’s voluntarism and active participation in the national sanitation complain carried out with a theme “Choco Churu”(Clean Churu), has enabled the district to be a model district.

Underlining the vitality of water supply for effective use of toilets and guaranteeing sanitation, the District Collector indicated that the government is also working hard on water management schemes by availing funds for house hold water reservoirs.

Ram Swarop Jaht says that the construction and funding of connect water reservoirs for every family by improving the long existed traditional structures to harvest rain waters during rainy seasons and received water from government tanker vehicles, has been an essential part of the thriving sanitation campaign in India.

One of the Indian rural dwellers in Baniyala village, Taranagar Block, Churu District, Lichma Devi, has received the public fund to build and use a 20,000 litter capacity concrete water reservoir. She told the visiting African reporters that the availability of the reservoir in that arid village has enabled her family access water for both sanitation and drinking purposes.

Lichma Devi is one of the rural dwellers in Baniyala village to build concrete water reservoir

According to her, the incidence of waterborne diseases in family is very minimal following the construction of the water reservoir and they are leading better life.  

Communities have been mobilized and guided by their own elected leaders to realize The Swachh Bharat Mission. In the Taranagar Block, for instance, 29 of them have played their part calling the people to rally behind the National effort. Mr. Norangla Suthar of the Baniyala Village was among the champions of sanitation and India would not have registered such a shining achievement without these trustworthy community leaders and volunteers across the nation.

India’s milestone and massive accomplish in water and sanitation can be a big lesson for African nations including Ethiopia, which has managed to curb open defecation at the fastest rate in the world.

In Ethiopia, this time around, seven in every 10 people use toilets yet 25 years ago, less than one in every 10 Ethiopians used toilets. This puts Ethiopia at the top of the list of Sub-Saharan African countries that have shown progress in eradicating open defecation showing 57.7 % improvement.

However, despite the remarkable success of Ethiopia, toilets built in Ethiopia are not sanitary and improved ones and some rural areas have no access to toilets. According to World Bank 2013 study, poor sanitation costs Ethiopia 13.5 Billion Birr (570 USD).

As the challenge of sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa, including the region’s best achiever Ethiopia or the worst performer Djibouti, would remain a global concern, the countries are likely to learn from India’s best experience.