Uptick for India on sanitation in UN report

Major drop seen in open defecation

June 18, 2019 11:32 pm | Updated 11:32 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Inequalities remain in piped water supply between rural and urban areas.

Inequalities remain in piped water supply between rural and urban areas.

India has made great gains in providing basic sanitation facilities since the start of the millennium, accounting for almost two thirds of the 650 million people globally who stopped practising open defecation between 2000 and 2017.

However, a monitoring report by UN organisations released on Tuesday also shows that there has been absolutely no growth in the population with access to piped water facilities over that period, while large inequalities remain between rural and urban areas.

As for drinking water, the Joint Monitoring Programme report by UNICEF and WHO shows that India has increased the percentage of its population with access to a protected drinking water source less than 30 minutes away, from 79% in 2000 to 93% in 2017.

However, the percentage of households getting piped water has remained stagnant at 44% over the 17-year period.

“Drinking water is now the highest priority of the development agenda for this government,” said Drinking Water and Sanitation secretary Parameswaran Iyer. The contours of a new scheme, tentatively called Nal Se Jal, are being drafted this month.

With regard to sanitation, India’s record has been better. The country is responsible for almost single-handedly dragging the world towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal of ending open defecation. The South Asian region, including India, accounted for almost three-fourths of the population who stopped defecating in the open between 2000 and 2017, according to the report. Of the 2.1 billion people who gained access to basic sanitation services over this time period globally, 486 million live in India.

“India’s Swachh Bharat mission has been an example and inspiration to other countries, especially in Africa, but also East and South Asia,” said Mr. Iyer. “Nigeria sent a delegation to study the programme…We believe our programme had four reasons for its success that we can share with the rest of the world: political leadership, public financing, partnerships and people’s participation.”

The millions of new toilets which mark the progress of the Swachh Bharat mission are, however, producing large amounts of solid and liquid waste that India simply does not have the ability to treat and dispose of safely. According to the report, only 30% of the country’s wastewater is treated at plants providing at least secondary treatment, in comparison to an 80% global average.

“Solid and liquid waste management will be the focus of Swachh Bharat phase 2. We will launch the roadmap and strategy for that programme next month,” said Mr. Iyer.

“The human right to sanitation implies that people not only have a right to a hygienic toilet but also have a right not to be negatively affected by unmanaged faecal waste. This is most relevant to poor and marginalized groups who tend to be disproportionately affected by other people’s unmanaged faecal sludge and sewage,” says the report, highlighting inequalities beyond toilet access.

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