Thousands of youths across Odisha join ‘My Toilet My Dignity’ campaign

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· Sanitation is a human right, a matter of dignity for all

· While building toilets is important, ensuring water supply and proper disposal and management of the waste can only ensure toilet use and proper sanitation

· Govt should ensure water at doorstep for each household to end Women’s walk for water

Bhubaneswar: Thousands of students across the state joined “My Toilet My Dignity” campaign and vowed to work for ensuring better sanitation, secured water future and hygiene for all at a time when a massive disease burden associated with deficient hygiene, sanitation, and water supply looms large. The students belonging to different colleges in five districts of the state are members of the ‘#Youth4Water’ clubs formed under the ‘#Youth4Water’ campaign led by Odisha’s Water Man Ranjan Panda, who is also the convenor of the Water Initiatives, Odisha (WIO). The campaign aims at reaching out to each youth of the state by 2024 with the messages of water/river conservation; sanitation; hygiene and climate change awareness.

Joining the “My Toilet My Dignity” campaign at Khariar Autonomous College, Nuapada, Panda said 4.2 billion people that is about half the population of the world live without safely managed sanitation and 673 million people still practice open defecation worldwide at a time when we are talking about missions to moon and mars. He further added that inadequate sanitation is estimated to cause 4,32,000 diarrhoeal deaths every year and is a major factor behind diseases such as intestinal worms, trachoma and schistosomiasis. Besides, 297,000 under-five children are estimated to die each year from diarrhoea as a result of unsafe drinking water, sanitation and hand hygiene, he pointed out.

He further said that a toilet is not only related to health, it is a matter of dignity and symbolises a society that cares for health and wellbeing of its people including women and children. It is also necessary for maintaining a healthy environment.

Panda further emphasised that a toilet should not be considered just as a physical infrastructure, but as part of a sanitation system that takes care of ensured water supply and proper disposal and management of the faecal wastes. He said it is good that many programmes in the country are promoting construction of toilets. However, a host of challenges are there to ensure that these toilets are used and maintained properly. Emphasising on the water supply aspect of the toilet, he raised concern that traditionally in India the burden of fetching water for the entire family falls mostly on the women and this is the reason if toilets are built without ensured water supply at door step, it will add to women’s woes further. Citing that women walk miles to collect water, he urged upon the government to ensure water supply in each household and a tap in toilets to end sufferings of women.

Talking about the link between inadequate sanitation and diseases that results in poverty of the already poor families of the state, Ajit Panda, co-convenor of WIO, said the loss of productivity due to water and sanitation related diseases is huge.

Dr Fanindam Singh Deo, a renowned educationist and social worker, who attended the ‘My Toilet My Dignity’ campaign at Khariar Autonomous College, said use of toilet needs a big change in mindsets, social system, economic condition and a host of other things. Just declaring an area open defecation free is not enough.

As part of this campaign, students from many colleges also visited nearby villages to understand the challenges related to sanitation and to motivate people for using toilets and promote healthy and hygienic habits. During one such visit to the Nalakana Kela Sahi in Puri district, district child protection officer (DCPO) Manoj K Tripathy joined the students of Konark Bhagabati Mahabidyalaya. In this village out of 50 odd households, only six have toilets. He said that sanitation is a human right and villagers must all work together to ensure this. While he urged the villagers to start building toilets with their own efforts, the #Youth4Water Club members urged upon him to take up this matter with the government.

Similarly, members of the #Youth4Water Club of Khariar Autonomous College visited Muktapur village near their college and observed that only seven families of the 30 odd households had toilets and only three of them use them. This certainly calls for immediate attention and a lot of efforts need to be taken for people to get toilets and use them regularly.

In the 10 colleges of the state that organised programmes under the “My Toilet My Dignity Campaign” students organised ‘Walk to the Toilets’ in their campuses, cleaned the same to show love for toilets and took a 13 point oath which include, among others, a promise to use and clean toilets regularly, keep the campuses as well their homes and neighbourhoods clean, adopt hygienic practices, conserve water and raise awareness about water sanitation, hygiene and climate change issues.

Besides, the colleges organised several programmes like seminars, debates, quiz and painting competitions and the winners were awarded. All programmes were organised in collaboration between WIO, UNICEF, Patang, respective colleges and other local organisations.

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