Meeting The ODF Target

Uttam Maharjan


The Global Sanitation Fund Program executed by UN-Habitat, UN program, has been supporting the government since October 2010 in brining into fruition the open defecation-free (ODF) campaign. However, the national sanitation target of universal sanitation by 2017, which is closely related to the ODF target, has been missed. The ODF target is related to the water and sanitation targets of SDG No. 6.
Nepal had set a national goal of declaring all the districts ODF by the end of the fiscal year 2075-76. As nine districts still remain to be declared ODF, the government has instructed all the concerned agencies to fulfil the target by the end of September. The districts that are awaiting ODF declaration include Kathmandu, Sindhupalchowk, Kaverpalanchowk, Bara, Parsa, Mahottari, Dhanusha, Morang and Sarlahi. Chitwan is the first district to be declared ODF, while Dhading is the latest ODF district.
As per the data, Kathmandu has 1,309 households without toilets. Out of 436,344 households in Kathmandu, 435,035 are equipped with toilets while the rest lack toilets. It may strike one surprised that even some people in the capital city do not have access to toilets but this is the reality.
Open defecation is a public health issue, which is directly tied up with sanitation. As in other poor countries, managing human waste is a daunting challenge in Nepal. In fact, sanitation is one of the fundamental rights of the people but due to poor infrastructure and waste management, the people are suffering. The poor drain and sewage management system has worried the people for years. The water-logging problem during the rains is the outcome of the poor drain and sewage system.
It is estimated that 40 per cent of the Nepalis have no access to toilets. Lack of access to toilets is more pronounced in the Terai, where as many as 75 per cent of people are deprived of toilet facilities. However, the ODF campaign has been contributing to enhancing access of the people to toilets. In 1990 AD, only six per cent of the people had access to toilets. The number of people having access to toilets is increasing day by day thanks to the ODF campaign.
Open defecation has deleterious effects on human health. It has several adverse ramifications relating to human health. Open defecation pollutes the environment. The faecal matter penetrates surface water and unprotected sources of water like wells. The contaminated water then gives rise to diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid and intestinal worm infections. The environment polluted by open defecation may cause malnutrition and stunted growth in children. Studies have shown that in countries where open defecation is practised, there is the highest mortality rate among under-five children together with the incidence of malnutrition, poverty and disparities between the haves and the have-nots. In other words, the vicious cycle of poverty and diseases persists in such countries.
In the past, the size of population was low, whereas open spaces existed in abundance. But with the passage of time, the population increased and urbanisation shot up rapidly. And open defecation became an issue of health and dignity. As a result, global attention was drawn to the need for extirpating open defecation by building necessary infrastructure so much so that that even the water and sanitation targets, which are closely related to elimination of open defecation, have been encapsulated into the SDGs.
Although even outlying districts of Nepal have been declared ODF, Kathmandu, the capital city, is yet to be declared as such. Kathmandu is the melting pot of the country. Migration to Kathmandu from outside the Valley has been continuing nonstop, especially since the restoration of multi-party democracy in the country in the 1990s. The Maoist insurgency further accelerated the migration trend by striking fear and terror into the minds of the people living in the districts outside the Valley.
Regarded as the city of glitter by those living outside the Valley, Kathmandu is now reeling under manifold problems due to, inter alia, ever-burgeoning population pressure on land and unplanned human settlements. As such, waste management has become a daunting challenge. The Bagmati, Bishnumati and other rivers have remained polluted for years due to failure to manage faecal sludge coming from homes and emptying into these rivers. To properly manage faecal sludge, it is imperative to construct separate sewage systems alongside the rivers.
Besides, Kathmandu lacks an adequate number of public toilets. And the existing toilets are not properly maintained. Some may not even visit filthy toilets even if they feel an urge to answer a call of nature. Kathmandu is an overcrowded city with many people from outside the Valley living here. Tourists also visit the capital city in large numbers. But the number of public toilets is low in comparison to the people living in or visiting Kathmandu. Some months ago, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City made a plan for constructing smart toilets in the capital city. The matter has now been in limbo. The need for constructing an adequate number of public toilets in Kathmandu has been overdue.
However, the government has braced itself to declare the remaining districts, including Kathmandu, ODF by the end of September. Still, making Kathmandu ODF is really challenging given various difficulties like faecal sludge management and construction of additional public toilets. Kathmandu is home to beggars and homeless people as well. Lack of public toilets is a serious problem for homeless people. Homeless beggars and people tend to defecate in the open. Some people tend to defecate in the open despite having access to toilets due to their attitude, which needs to be changed to make the ODF campaign a success. Anyway, fulfilling the ODF target is a must from the standpoint of public health and the government and related agencies should pull out all the stops to declare the remaining districts ODF by the extended deadline.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000)

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