sulabh swatchh bharat

Thursday, 21-June-2018


WASH stands for water, sanitation and hygine and the expenditure for this by various countries has come under WHO’s lens. Thus the focus should all the more on Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat drive

WHO, or World Health Organisation, has expressed its concern over a discernable slowing down of expenditure on water and sanitation in many countries of the world. And it is no secret that most of these States being referred to by the organisation are developing nations. This takes attention to millions of people, mostly women and children, who face grave risk and threat all the time. Many of them are already languishing amid continuing lack of safe drinking water and suitable sanitation facilities. And their economic level as a matter of rule rather than exception is so low as to hardly be expected of them to meet the high cost of treatment in case of being struck by anyone or the other deadly disease that this may cause. Though back home, or in India, the WHO worries may not be so relevant because of a robust sanitation drive taken at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, yet the warning served by WHO’s Geneva-based Director Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, Dr Maria Neira, leaves little room for complacency in this respect. She said through a Press release issued by WHO on Thursday, or April 13, “Today almost two billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma.”

As per a WHO report such sorry state of affairs is because many countries are not spending fast enough to meet the water and sanitation targets under the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, which were set and adopted by the United Nations about two years ago and are to be attained in 15 years thereon, or by 2030 to be precise. WHO also points out that some of the countries that have now tardily been moving with their spending on water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH for short, have had in the past spent much more than what is the case now. This funding gap is rampant and, according to WHO, 147 countries have previously tried to mobilise the resources required to meet the Millennium Development Goal, or MDG, with the target of cutting the number of those people who could be without safe and, thus, improved source of water to half; and 95 countries met the corresponding target for sanitation. The SDG targets are more ambitious than those of the MDG calling for even higher levels for funding. Thus, greater mobilisation of resources for public spending in these crucial areas is greatly called for. The countries were supposed to augment resources through innovative taxation and tariff revisions.

India had had already been put on alert by the present Government after it took over the reins of the country three years ago. So much so that a cess was brought and added to various taxes towards the end of the year 2015 to meet the expenses of cleanliness drive launched under Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission. The age old practice of open defecation was taken head on and millions of toilets were constructed both in private households and in public spaces with the hope that this would do away the stigmatised image of the country because of the practice of open defecation.

There have been quite a few indications of this making a dent on old and nasty practice. Huge sums have been invested by both the people and the Government in construction of toilets and the pace with which this is on promises that the country would become open defecation free sooner than what has ever before been thought of. Yet, the battle for this has to be relentless. More so, since open defecation has been a habit rather than being a compulsion all the time. Thus, the WHO concerns vis-à-vis sanitation may not be as relevant for the country now as those for water and the hygiene that accompanies it under WASH could be. Thus, the focus calls for to be broadened. This is also so because vast parts of the country are more or less arid, courtesy tropical weather that the approaching summer now reminds all the more. There have also been complaints about toilets being without water and thus the lurking fear of their drying up and turning out to be not worth using. So still more efforts as also resources are called for though India is spending much more now under the head what WHO calls as WASH.

As per the organisation’s own estimates the sum set aside for WASH in India was a whopping 3554 million US dollars for the last year. Yet, for the same period of time, as per WHO, China had spent $53794 million and Brazil $9240 million. So the difference is still huge. And, thus, there is all the more need to put in more resources for what is called as WASH in the international arena. This has to include all its components, or water, sanitation and hygiene. Once the expenditure is at least doubled for WASH its savoury effects would become more visible. This is all the more necessary since for ages the approach to health in India has been curative rather than being preventive. Maria Neira’s concerns listed the diseases that are mainly water borne and can come with the water that can well be contaminated with something as bad as faeces. So the alarm bells should not stop ringing or go unheeded.