A Silent Health Emergency: Open Defecation. How can Parliamentarians take Action?

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1.1 billion people in the world have to defecate in the open.

Open Defecation (OD) is not only a practice that infringes on human dignity, but which in addition has severe consequences on people’s health and on the environment.

“There is a vast and authoritative body of evidence which substantiate the fact that open defecation can result in increased infant deaths, undernutrition, stunting and Faecally Transmitted Diseases (FTDs). These FTDs can effectively cripple the growth of young bodies and minds, among other harms.”

From Policy Brief for Parliamentarians: Open Defecation: This is also your business!

The problem is so serious that it even will be included in the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 under Goal Number 6:

Goal 6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

The World Toilet Day

The 19th of November was officially designated as the World Toilet Day by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013.

Why do we need this day?

First of all, for raising awareness. Most people have never heard of the issue or its extent (OP affecting 1.1 billion people!). Nor do they know of the terrible effects. Besides health problems, OD raises the risk for women and girls to be raped and abused as they have no toilet that would offer them privacy.

“The connections between toilets and violence against women may not initially be obvious. But consider a woman without access to a toilet in her home. When travelling to and from public toilets, using the toilet, or venturing from her home to defecate openly, she is vulnerable to violence. This vulnerability is becoming increasingly recognized and described.

Women experiencing regular discrimination from men express fear of assault or rape when having to leave the house to use the toilet. Reports of attacks or harassment near or in toilet facilities, as well as near or in areas where women defecate openly, are not uncommon. The consequences of such violence against women are both physical and psychological for the victim, and extend to families and communities that continue to live with gender based inequalities and lost economic potential of victims.”

From World Toilet Day: Equality, dignity and the link between gender-based violence and sanitation.  

But the World Toilet Day is still important for another reason: to take action to end Open Defecation.

How to do this? A first step may simply be by breaking the silence and by sharing information on the issue. 

The example of India

India has by far the highest number of people worldwide practicing Open Defecation. Of the 1.1 billion, 626 million are Indians, followed by Indonesia with a number that “only” reaches 60 million.

“It was observed that 600,000 under-five children in India died in 2010 due to diarrhoea, pneumonia and other diseases directly linked to a combination of contaminated water supply, unsafe sanitation conditions, and inadequate hygiene practices. Out of the 6,00,000, around 2,12,000 children died due to diarrhoea. Thus diarrhoea causes 12.6% of the child deaths in India. But this is just the tip of the proverbial. There are many other less visible FTDs like topical enteropathy, typhoid fever, Ascariasis, hookworm infection, etc that are equally debilitating and fatal.”

From Policy Brief for Parliamentarians: Open Defecation: This is also your business!

The Government of India launched the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) called Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) to combat OD: “The objective is to accelerate the sanitation coverage in the rural areas so as to comprehensively cover the rural community through renewed strategies and saturation approach.”

Policy Brief for Parliamentarians

But the (NBA) is still far from reaching its objectives. Therefore the Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy published a Policy Brief with the aim of equipping “Parliamentarians with the necessary knowledge and arsenal to combat the issue at the local and central level”. 

To get to know more about the situation of OD in the world and particularly in India and on how Parliamentarians can take action, please read the full policy brief here.

Although the brief mainly focuses on the specific context of India, you will find useful general suggestions on how to combat OD. Here are just some of them:

  • Build public awareness on the effects of OD.
  • Use Social Media by encouraging and establishing greater access and by creating an Internet Portal on the issue.
  • Make Policy interventions.
  • Engage with Civil Society.
  • Monitor budgetary allocations.
  • Seek for higher budget allocations.


To take further action, please click here.

To read the Policy Brief for Parliamentarians, please click here.


SOURCES: http://opendefecation.org, http://tsc.gov.in/TSC/NBA/AboutNBA.aspx,  http://www.unwater.org/worldtoiletday/home/en/, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/7891TRANSFORMING...

This is a blog post by Katharina Schuller, Intern at the United Nations Development Programme.