19 days ago

Maintaining success of toilet revolution

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Representational image

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A decade ago, the United Nations formally started to observe the World Toilet Day on November 19 in order to inspire actions dealing with the global sanitation crisis. The day is being celebrated globally with the theme 'Accelerating Change.' So, who will be the change makers? It is all the global people who put in their effort as this year's campaign asks people to 'be like a hummingbird.' According to an ancient tale, the smallest bird in the world once carried droplets of water in her beak, helping to douse a fire. The story's moral is that even a small initiative can contribute to solving a big problem. The US thus chose the hummingbird as the symbol of the World Toilet Day and the World Water Day, observed on March 22 this year.

Today, there are 3.5 billion people still living without safe toilets, and 419 million people still practise 'open defecation'. Thus, they seriously compromise health, sanitation, and the environment as these situations help spread various diseases. One of the severe outcomes is the death of around one thousand children under-five daily. So, there is a need to address the severe sanitation problem, which is also recognised in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Countries are committed to achieving the SDG-6, which underscored ensuring access to safe water and sanitation for all by 2030. Extensive effort is needed to attain the goals with only seven years in hand. The World Toilet Organisation (WTO) is a prime body working to help different governments in this regard.  

Bangladesh has improved a lot in terms of sanitation as the country's 'toilet revolution' was recognised globally almost a decade ago. The country has reduced the use of non-sanitary toilets significantly. Open defecation has nearly been eliminated. Thus, the country draws attention from many other countries like India, where open defection is still prevalent.

Around 11 per cent of the population in India still practises open defection due to a lack of necessary toilets as well as knowledge of basic cleanliness. The latest WHO-UNICEF data also show that at least one-sixth of India's rural population still defecates in the open, and a quarter doesn't even have primary sanitation access. In Bangladesh, the rate is now zero, which was 11 per cent in 2006, according to statistics compiled by the World Bank.

The challenge for Bangladesh is to maintain the achievement, as there is already a sign of slight deterioration. Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics (SVS) 2022, released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, showed that safely managed sanitation services declined to 66.10 per cent in the last year from 68 per cent in 2021. At the same time, the ratio of shared toilets increased to 26.60 per cent in 2022 from 25 per cent in 2021.

Thus, more work is needed to enhance the safely managed sanitation services, which can be done by setting up more public toilets, especially in urban areas, and keeping those clean. The condition of the bathrooms in most educational institutions, hospitals, bus terminals, rail stations, shopping centres, and offices leaves much to be desired. A lack of adequate public toilets in Dhaka has already created environmental challenges as open urination is slowly rising in different parts of the city. Awareness building is also necessary at all levels.

Hand washing is another critical thing to ensure safe sanitation. The ratio of hand washing facilities with soap and water reached 71 per cent in 2020 from 54.40 per cent following the Covid-19 pandemic. According to SVS data, the ratio later declined to 58.90 per cent in 2021 and stood at 63.20 per cent last year. More attention is needed there also.

The SVS data, however, showed that the ratio of improved toilet facilities increased to 88.80 per cent last year from 85.80 per cent in 2021. The ratio was 78.10 per cent in 2018. If the trend continues, it is likely that 100 per cent improved toilet facilities will be there by 2030. 

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