The WHO defines sanitation as “the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces”. According to WHO, the word ‘sanitation’ also refers to the maintenance of hygienic conditions, through services such as garbage collection and wastewater disposal.

We know that inadequate sanitation facilities are not only unhygienic but also a cause of many diseases world-wide. Lack of sanitation degrades health – especially that of children – and undermines education. It affects whole communities but consistently those most severely affected are the poor and disadvantaged. Inadequate sanitation is a concern for many international organisations. The WHO also announced the year 2008 to be the ‘International Year of Sanitation’.

Taking a look at the situation closer to home reveals a few alarming statistics. Our country’s Rural Development Minister in 2012 said, “India is the world’s largest open air lavatory with three fifths of the world’s people forced to do their ablutions outside” [1]. Open air defecation leads to the spread of diseases and malnutrition through parasitic and bacterial infections.

The figures tell us the same story, as more than 122 million households have no toilets, and 33% lack access to latrines; over 50% of the population (638 million) defecates in the open. This is relatively higher than Bangladesh and Brazil (7%) and China (4%). Although 211 million people gained access to improved sanitation from 1990–2008, only 31% uses them. 11% of the Indian rural families dispose of stools safely whereas 80% of the population leave their stools in the open or throw them in the garbage [2]. Data released by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) from a survey conducted in 2012; had once again underlined the abysmal state of sanitation in the country, particularly in rural India. According to this survey, only 32% of rural households have their own toilets and that less than half of Indian households have a toilet at home. There were more households with a mobile phone than with a toilet. Only 11 per cent of the Indian rural families dispose child stools safely. 80 per cent of children’s stools are left in the open or thrown into the garbage. With 638 million people defecating in the open and 44 per cent mothers disposing their children’s faeces in the open, there is a very high risk of microbial contamination (bacteria, viruses, amoeba) of water which causes diarrhoea in children.  Also, diarrhoea and worm infection are two major health conditions that affect school children impacting their learning abilities.

Same is the case with schools in India; many schools do not have proper sanitation facilities for its students which often lead to spread of many diseases. “Almost 23 per cent of girls drop out of school when they start menstruating. In some places, nearly 66 per cent of girls skip school during menstruation and one-third of them eventually drop out. Also, 40 per cent of schools lack functional toilets,” a survey revealed. Besides these, schools also do not have proper arrangements for drinking water or hand washing. It is very important to teach the students the importance of hygienic practices, but to do so it is also important to provide them with such facilities in school.

The low-level of sanitation facilities provided by schools is also evident through the ratings of one such ‘National School Sanitation Initiative’. The initiative was launched in 2011 by the Human Resource Development Ministry along with Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit; was open to any school in the country. Awards were given to the best performing schools. None of the schools from the states that voluntarily signed up for the ratings had scored in the top category, with the majority falling into the “needs immediate attention” category where adherence levels were below 33% of the norms [3].

The government of India has launched various programmes to work in this area. One of them is the Total Sanitation Campaign; it includes provision of toilet infrastructure and hand washing facilities in schools and hygiene education, to promote behavioural change amongst children. It also aimed at getting rid of open defecation completely by 2017.

The poor sanitation facilities in Indian schools are a growing concern. Where on one hand they lead to many diseases, they are also the cause of many school dropouts. Inadequate water supply and sanitation in schools are health hazards and affect school attendance, retention and educational performance.

Until now, a number of innovative public health campaigns and programmes to improve health and hygiene have been implemented in India but more needs to be done. LEAF Society also works vigorously in this domain to improve the lives of those residing in its area of operation(Namakkal). We will soon be providing our own accounts on the blog.

If you wish to learn more about how we do what we do, please visit our website or contact us for more details.




3. Hindustan Times, November 30, 2012

– Submitted By Ekta Handa


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