Friday, October 12, 2012

On toilets problems in India

Jairam Ramesh is drawing some ire overs his comment "toilets are more important than temples. No matter how many temples we go to, we are not going to get salvation. We need to give priority to the toilets and cleanliness". More commentary at The Economic Times
From The Economist Toilets and Jobs in India has some interesting comments.
Robert Chambers on inspiring action on shit talks of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS):
"Worldwide the traditional approach to hygiene has been education – people have to be taught, and hardware subsidy – poor people cannot afford toilets and have to be given them. Rural areas in developing countries are littered with the results: toilets not used, put to other purposes as stores, hencoops, a shrine and the like, or. dismantled and the materials used elsewhere. Or the toilets go to those who are better off, not the poor.  The dollars wasted must run into billions; and in some countries like India very large sums continue to go, so to speak, down the drain. 
CLTS turns these failed approaches on their heads.  There is no standard design, no hardware subsidy, no teaching, no special measures for people unable to help themselves, and no use of polite words – shit is shit.  India leads in the international glossary of words for shit with Kenya runner up.  Communities are triggered, facilitated to do their own analysis of their behaviour – through making their own participatory social and shit maps, inspecting the shit in the areas of open defecation (OD), and analysing pathways from shit to mouth.  Often children are facilitated in parallel with adults and then present their findings to them.  Throughout, there is a cocktail of embarrassment, laughter and disgust.  When people realize that ‘We are eating one another’s shit’ it can ignite immediate action to dig pits and construct latrines with their own resources. 
A follow up of encouragement, emphasising handwashing and hygiene as well as construction, is important.  Ideally and often, those unable to dig and build for themselves are helped by others. It is in the common interest.  When a community can declare itself ODF (open defecation free), external verification takes place, with subsequent celebration.
CLTS was pioneered in 2000 by Kamal Kar in Bangladesh.  Since then he and now many others have been energetically spreading it round the world. "
Some reservations about CLTS in the comments to Chamber's post and  here:
"These tactics of public shaming bore little relationship to the "good" shame and fear that community-led total sanitation relies on in its participatory analysis of how "we are eating one another's shit". People praised toilets for their convenience and not their health benefits, about which many were sceptical - including some of the teachers charged with carrying the campaign forward in the community. Several described toilets as dirtier than the fields. The vast majority of facilities did not have soap for hand washing, which meant the expected health gains were lost."
There is progress on a similar problem thanks to Arunachalam Muruganantham.
P.S. In the villages that I grew up till 1954, there was no option to open defecation. I the first village we used to walk about half a mile to the canal. For women, who used to different places, it was particularly bad since they had to go before daylight or after dark. Compared to those places, the toilets in the railways and college hostels were a horror. Since then, I have seen arrangements of various degrees of cleanliness and horror. the worst are near bus stations or those in small towns where manual scavengers come to clean. In many places, there are still no arrangements to clean your hands with soap after use. But generally, there is improvement in the houses I visit. But railways, bus stations and poor neighbourhoods is another matter. 

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