Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A revolution in the world of sanitation, period!

Menstruation and hygiene have been issues that women have been concerned about for ages. While the market is filled with disposable sanitary napkins (gel-based pads), environmental activists claim that a single disposable pad can take 500-800 years to decompose. If you’re one of those people who wants to create a sustainable environment, but haven’t been able to think of an alternative, here’s your blessing – cloth pads by Eco Femme!

Eco Femme is a women-led social enterprise founded by Kathy Walkling in 2010. It has been creating a social change through revitalising menstrual practices by producing and selling washable cloth pads and also providing education in menstrual health.

“The first two years of the venture was spent in product R&D on the menstrual practices of rural women and girls. Insights from these studies revealed the cultural taboo, poor education and understanding of menstrual cycle,” says Kathy.

In 2012, Eco Femme launched the product commercially (in India and abroad). It also flagged off the ‘Pad for Pad’ programme linking international sales with sponsoring pads for adolescent girls (which are distributed as part of a menstrual education workshop offered in schools). 

“In the last few years, our business and sales have been growing. We’ve expanded the programme by increasing our partnerships (for implementation) across India and figuring out a strategy to make cloth pads affordable and accessible for economically disadvantaged women,” explains Kathy.

Addressing the stigma around menstruation and the lack of awareness among rural women, Kathy found that most women were relieved to talk about it. “Women have questions, fears, concerns and are happy when someone is addressing these doubts. But they’re comfortable talking about it when men aren’t around,” she shares.

So, how can men be a part of breaking the menstruation taboo? “There are backlashes all over the world now about period shaming. Men certainly have a role to play – to be informed and understand that this is a process in creating gender equality. And women have a role to play in speaking about it with men instead of keeping them in the dark. This lack of awareness breeds misinformation and taboo,” she says.

With the concept of cloth pads receiving mixed response, Kathy reveals that early users of cloth pads were aware of the chemicals in disposable ones. “There are many women and girls who are aware of the adverse reactions of using these plastics and chemicals; these are the same people who are also concerned about pollution. So when presented with factual information about sanitary waste from disposables, they’re motivated to try cloth pads,” she explains.

Without this information, most women however are happy with the convenience of disposable pads — find them liberating even — and they think the idea of cloth pads is a taking a step backwards. “The shift is gradual; it takes time to educate women about the limitations of disposable pads…as in getting rid of them after use,” rues Kathy.

Kathy opines that educational institutions must have open dialogues on menstruation, so that it becomes more mainstream. “It should become a part of school curriculum — for both girls and boys.  It’s important to look at our own negative biases against menstruation.

Many of us are conditioned to feel disgust and aversion towards menstruation/menstrual blood and while this remains unexamined, the same messages will get transmitted to children (either offspring or in a classroom). That’s why menstruation is seen as something dirty, secretive and shameful,” she avers.

Apart from products such as reusable baby diapers and breast pads for lactating mothers (which will be launched within the next six months), Eco Femme is working towards expanding partnerships for its’ non-profit, educational work.

“We are still figuring out effective ways to streamline distribution for the subsidised pads (Pads for Sisters programme) via NGO’s and other channels. We will also be developing more adult education programmes – to help educators, activists and ambassadors feel more confident, so that we can bring this conversation into the community at different levels,” she adds.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sulabh International founder to be new face of Railways

Toilet man Bindeshwar Pathak would be the new face of spick and span Indian trains with the ministry of railways roping him in as brand ambassador for its cleanliness mission.

The decision to make Mr Pathak brand ambassador was made after a high-level meeting, which decided on sprucing up the cleanliness mission in railway stations and trains, a senior Railways official said.

Mr Pathak’s organisation Sulabh International has already offered to adopt five major Railway stations in the country to build toilets and make them open defecation free. One such station is the capital’s Old Delhi railway station.

Sulabh International is an India-based social service organisation that works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education. Mr Pathak’s work is considered pioneering in the field of sanitation and hygiene. He received various national and international awards for his work with this organisation, including Padma Bhushan in 2003. His name was added to the Global 500 Roll of Honour.

He also received the Energy Globe Award and the Stockholm Water Prize. In June, 2013, he got the Legend of Planet award from the French senate in Paris.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What numbers tell us about Open Defecation in India

As per the most recent Swachhta Status Report in 2015, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country still defecates in open.

Eliminating Open Defecation in India by 2nd October 2019 – the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi – is one of the key aims of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan movement launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi two years ago on Gandhi Jayanti.

As per the most recent Swachhta Status Report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), in 2015, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country still defecates in open —a major public health and sanitation problem.

How does India compare with other countries?

India fares poorly. According to data compiled by r.i.c.e, Sub-Saharan Africa, which had 65 per cent of the GDP per capita of India, had only about half of the rural open defecation compared to India.
In Bangladesh, only 5 per cent of rural people defecate in the open, significantly lower than that in India.

Access to toilets

The Swachhta Status Report finds that 45.3 per cent households in rural areas reported having access to a sanitary toilet whereas, in urban areas, 88.8 per cent households reported having sanitary toilets. Sanitary toilet is one which ensures safe confinement and disposal of faeces and does not require the need for human handling.

Comparable data from various rounds of NSSO show that access to latrines has improved both in rural and urban India. In 1993, 85.8 per cent of rural households didn’t have access to a latrine. By 2012, the number was reduced to 59.4 per cent.

Does access to toilet ensure usage?

This is one of the key policy questions regarding Open Defecation and also the one which is the most debated. Should the government focus on building more toilets—increase access, or on encouraging people to use toilets—behaviour change?

Based on findings from NSSO’s Swachhta Status Report, one can conclude that access implies usage. The survey found that among the households having a sanitary toilet, 95.6 percent people were using it. “It may be seen that for the rural households having a sanitary toilet, the usage percentage was very high across all categories [age, gender],” the report says.

As per another NSSO survey, in 2012, just 1.7 percent of the households in rural areas and 0.2 percent of the households in urban areas had access to latrine but not using them.

But the SQUAT survey conducted by r.i.c.e found that 40 per cent of households that have a working latrine have at least one person who regularly defecates in the open. Further, less than half of people who own a government latrine use it regularly. “47 per cent of those that defecate in the open say they do so because it is pleasant, comfortable, or convenient.”

Can access to toilet change personal preferences? The question remains unanswered due to lack of official data. Diane Coffey from r.i.c.e argues that the NSSO survey is not designed to tell us what will happen if the government builds latrines for people who don't have them.

“The vast majority of latrines in rural India cost at least 20,000 rupees and has large pits that are mechanically emptied, or never emptied. The government provides latrines that have soak pits that need to be emptied manually. Villagers think that only Dalits can do this work,” Ms Coffey told The Hindu.

Note that under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), the support for building an individual toilet is Rs. 12,000.

Toilet construction

The pace of toilet construction increased in 2015-16, government data says.But the toilet construction numbers are not always reliable, as was found by an audit report by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India that was released in December 2015. 

The CAG found that during the UPA-II regime, governments of at least 16 states exaggerated the data on individual household toilets by over 190 per cent of the actual constructions.

Dysfunctional toilets

Further, the CAG report said that of the constructed toilets, around 30 per cent were found to be dysfunctional. A Niti Aayog report of Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan states that “the visible improvement in toilet coverage across Indian states is deeply undermined by the poor quality of operation and maintenance of these facilities.”

As per the All India Baseline survey conducted by Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2012-13, 1.39 crore of the total 7.41 crore household toilets in India were defunct or dysfunctional.
“Financial assistance provided under the previous Government programmes was inadequate and led to the improper construction of toilets, which slowly became dysfunctional,” the NITI Aayog report states.

Budgetary allocation

According to Accountability Initiative, allocations for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Gramin) increased over threefold from Rs. 2,850 crore in FY 2014-15 to Rs. 9,000 crore in FY 2016-17. Part of this jump is due to the introduction of the SBM (Swachh Bharat Mission) cess in November 2015.

Behavior Change

Behaviour change is a key priority of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as sanitation is a behavioural issue, central government says. “It involves a change of mindset among people to stop open defecation and to adopt safe sanitation practices.”

But numbers tell a different story. Lesser funds are now being spent on Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities.

According to Accountability Initiative, construction of Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) accounted for 97 per cent of the total expenditure between April 2015 and February 2016. IEC accounted for only 1 per cent of total expenditure. This is a 3 percentage point drop from FY 2014-15.

Expenditure on IEC reduced from Rs. 175 crore in 2013-14 to Rs. 109 crore in 2015-16, government conveyed in response to a parliament question.

Water in toilets

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation says that adequate availability of water for toilets is also a concern. In rural India, 42.5 per cent of households were found to have access to water for use in the toilet compared to 88 per cent in urban India, Swachhta Status report found.
How many districts and villages have eliminated Open Defecation?

As of August 2016, only 17 of the 650 districts have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) by the government. Of the six lakh plus villages in India, 54,732 were declared ODF as of 31st March 2016. These figures are sourced from responses to parliament questions.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Women, girls spend 200 million hours collecting water: UNICEF

Women and girls across the world collectively spend about 200 million hours daily collecting water which is a "colossal waste" of their valuable time, the UN children's agency has said of the activity which is a daily routine for millions of girls in India.

As World Water week kicked off earlier this week, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) highlighted the opportunity cost from a lack of access to water disproportionately falls on women and girls who collectively spend as much as 200 million hours - or more than 22,800 years - every day collecting this vital resource.

"Just imagine: 200 million hours is 8.3 million days, or over 22,800 years," UNICEF's global head of water, sanitation and hygiene Sanjay Wijesekera said.

"It would be as if a woman started with her empty bucket in the Stone Age and didn't arrive home with water until 2016. Think how much the world has advanced in that time. Think how much women could have achieved in that time," he said.

"When water is not on premises and needs to be collected, it's our women and girls who are mostly paying with their time and lost opportunities," he added.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030.

UNICEF said in this regard, the first step is providing everyone with a basic service within a 30-minute round trip, and the long term goal is to ensure everyone has safe water available at home.

However, UN estimates are that in sub-Saharan Africa for 29 per cent of the population, improved drinking water sources are 30 minutes or more away.

In Asia, the numbers are 21 minutes in rural areas and 19 minutes in urban areas.

UNICEF added that when water is not piped to the home, the burden of fetching it falls disproportionately on women and children, especially girls.

A study of 24 sub-Saharan countries found that when the collection time is more than 30 minutes, an estimated 3.36 million children and 13.54 million adult females were responsible for water collection.

In Malawi, the UN estimates that women who collected water spent 54 minutes on average, while men spent only 6 minutes.

The UN agency noted that for women, the opportunity costs of collecting water are high, with far reaching effects.

"It considerably shortens the time they have available to spend with their families, on child care, other household tasks, or even in leisure activities. For both boys and girls, water collection can take time away from their education and sometimes even prevent their attending school altogether," UNICEF said.

When water is not available at home, even if it is collected from a safe source, the fact that it has to be transported and stored increases the risk that it is faecally contaminated by the time it is drunk, it said.

This in turn increases the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which is the fourth leading cause of death among children under five and a leading cause of chronic malnutrition, or stunting, which affects 159 million children worldwide.

More than 300,000 children under 5 die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water - over 800 per day.

"No matter where you look, access to clean drinking water makes a difference in the lives of people," said Wijesekera.

"The needs are clear; the goals are clear.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Poor sanitation huge barrier to a better future for Africa

Africa is a continent of astonishing potential. But if it is to build the future its citizens deserve, we have to see increased effort to remove the barriers holding it back. None is greater than poor sanitation - a shadow hanging over the lives and prospects of hundreds of millions of people on the continent and across the world.

Nearly one billion people globally are forced to defecate in the open. As many have to live with inadequate sanitation. Both situations lead to the contamination of water and food and the spread of disease. The costs – human and economic – are huge which is why it is so disappointing that the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation was the one furthest from being achieved.

The impact on health of this failure is enormous. Diarrheal diseases, caused overwhelmingly by poor sanitation and unsafe water, remains one of the top ten causes of death worldwide according to the WHO, killing 1.5 million people in 2012.

The damage from a lack of sanitation goes far beyond health. The lack of toilets puts the personal safety of girls and women at risk. It’s one of the major reasons why so many girls drop out of school, robbing them of an education and their communities of their talents.

It’s not just a human tragedy but a huge economic burden on already hard-pressed countries. New research prepared by LIXIL and Oxford Economics has put the annual cost of poor sanitation for low and middle income countries at $222.9 billion. These cumulative costs include those from early loss of life, providing health care and the impact on productivity of sickness.

It is the largest countries like India, the research shows, which shoulder the highest national cost burden. But if you look at these costs nation-by nation as a share of GDP to work out their impact on a society, then countries from sub-Saharan Africa make up half the top ten. In Niger, poor sanitation costs 2.7 per cent of GDP and the figure is nearly one per cent across the continent as a whole. Africa simply can’t afford this loss. 

Even more worrying is that the research shows these annual costs for Africa have risen by 24.5 per cent in the last five years and now stand at over $19 billion. It also underlines the terrible toll poor sanitation is taking across the continent by revealing that premature deaths account for 75 per cent of these total costs in Africa compared to just 55 per cent globally.

This is why sanitation and hygiene must again figure high on the agenda [this week] as Japanese and African heads of state gather in Nairobi for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development and in Stockholm as businesses, political leaders and others gather for World Water Week.
This complex challenge is made more difficult because sanitation solutions used in developed world cannot be transplanted to the slums or rural areas of Africa. The infrastructure is too costly to build and maintain and too wasteful of resources. Water across many parts of the continent, for example, is already scarce and becoming scarcer because of climate change.

It is not all bleak news. Not long ago Bill Gates rightly said not many of the smartest people were involved in finding sanitation solutions for those in low income countries. That’s no longer the case, thanks in part to the role he has played in pushing it up the global agenda.

I am proud that LIXIL is bringing all its experience as a world-leader in water technology to help find solutions. With a wide variety of partners, we are developing affordable and effective solutions which will meet the needs of poorest communities.

We introduced, for example, the cost effective and hygienic Safe Toilet (SaTo) products in 2013 and over one million have now been installed in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean for as little as $2 dollars a unit. They are helping transform sanitation and such is the demand and need, we aim to have installed 20 million by 2020.

Co-inventor Jim McHale (right) field tests a new model of the SaTo
Considerable progress has been made in recent years across the industry in recognising the challenge. But there is no time to waste. Every year the cost in human misery and lost prosperity keeps rising. Overcoming this challenge requires even greater effort and co-operation from governments, businesses, and civil society.

Governments must commit to national sanitation strategy with stretching but achievable targets backed by increased funding – public, private and a mix of both. National efforts must also include a new emphasis on education so the citizen understands the need to use and look after sanitation facilities when they are provided.

Innovation and partnership are absolutely critical. We need more innovation in technology and delivery so we find new, affordable and sustainable ways of bringing sanitation to those at the bottom of the pyramid. This will be encouraged by more collaboration and public-private partnerships so knowledge and experience is shared.

There are exciting developments going on in Africa and round the world to provide sanitation to the communities who need it most. By stepping up our collective efforts, we will remove a huge barrier to a better future for this continent.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Adding hygiene to school curriculum

As part of its nationwide hygiene and sanitation campaign Dettol Banega Swachh India, RB India and State Government of Telangana have joined hands to launch Hygiene Curriculum in 200 schools across four districts in Telangana.

At a launch event in Hyderabad, Health Minister of Telangana, C. Laxma Reddy launched the Hygiene Curriculum in the state and also unveiled its e-version.

Developed by RB India in partnership with XSEED and Butterfly Edufield, the Hygiene Curriculum has been developed in four languages – Hindi, English, Tamil and Telugu - and comprises student workbooks, teachers’ manual and innovative teaching aids.

The curriculum consists of 45 lessons which will be delivered over a period of 3 years and covers 5 modules like Personal Hygiene, Hygiene at Home, and Hygiene at School, Hygiene in the Neighbourhood and Hygiene during Illness.

The curriculum will be used in 10,000 schools across the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu and aims to educate 2.5 million children.

In Telangana alone, more than 400 teachers across 200 schools have been trained to conduct Behaviour Change Communication sessions for school children from Class I to V.

In line with WASH delivery model, each school will also be provided consumable such as soaps; liquid had wash, towels, buckets etc. To facilitate an effective implementation of this program, Academy of Gandhian Studies - Tirupati, Modern Architects for Rural India (MARI) - Hyderabad, Mandal Education Officer and District Education Officers have been actively involved in the Project with support from members of the local Gram Panchayats.

Furthermore, to assess the impact of the hygiene curriculum programme, stringent hygiene indicators have been devised as part of the initiative.

On this occasion Nitish Kapoor, Regional Director – RB South Asia said, “We understand the importance of driving behavior change for a cleaner and healthier India and also the role children can play in this journey.

They are the future of the country and it is important to inculcate good habits in them from the beginning. Today we are proud to partner with State Government of Telangana to formally launch the Hygiene Curriculum as a part of “Dettol Banega Swachh India” initiative.

We are quite positive about the long term impact this will have on school children across the state in driving the nation towards Swachh Bharat.” The national hygiene curriculum programme has so far covered over 5,000 schools across 6 states.