It has long been recognised by experts that inadequate and poor toilet facility results in multitude of hazards; mainly in the areas of health and economy. In the context of Nepal, correlation between the percentage of people having access to decent toilets and the child (under five) mortality rate has been well established but there are no reliable studies done to establish a relationship between Nepali people’s access to toilets and it’s impacts on national economy.Open defecation and poor handling of human feces can easily trigger diarrheal diseases among people in the neighbouring areas. Currently diarrhoea is one of the major drivers of malnutrition in children under five years old and second leading cause of their deaths. As per the available WHO data, globally, it is responsible for the death of about 525,000 children under five years per annum. From the economic perspective, no or poor toilet facilities accompanied by inadequate water supply and sanitation soaked $222.9 billion from 2015’s world economy as per a 2016 joint-study done by WaterAid, Oxford Economics and LIXIL.
One may be surprised to learn that only 6 percent of Nepalis had access to a toilet when Nepal welcomed democracy in 1990.By collaborating with the community groups, development partners and private sector stakeholders; the government was able to achieve 62 percent access by 2011. With these improvements, Nepal’s under-five mortality rate had declined by about three folds between 1980s and 2010. In 2011, to further improve the prevailing poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, the government with strong support from major political parties and other stakeholders had developed a National Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan (2011 – 2017) that had set a national goal of making country Open Defecation Free (ODF) zone by the end of year 2017. With only few more days left till the end of this year, now it is certain that the country would miss its original deadline.
According to WaterAid’s “The State of the World’s Toilets 2017” report, Nepal is the fourth best country in the world to reduce open defecation between 2000 and 2015. As per the report, during this period, Nepal reduced open defecation practices by 34.8 percent point, i.e., from 64.6 percent in 2000 to 29.8 percent in 2015. This helped Nepal to become one of the few nations to meet the sanitation Millennium Development Goal well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Despite the huge damage from the 2015 Nepal Earthquake – severe damage to about 220,000 toilets in 14 most affected districts in central Nepal –the country still managed to be on track to declare 42 out of 77 districts as ODF zones by November 2017. According to the most recent data provided by the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS), there are only 2.6 million Nepalis (9 percent of the total population) who have no access to toilets. However, the extent of this problem varies across districts, geographical regions and the size of human settlements.As per the data, people in hilly districts of mid-western and far-western regions have poor access to toilets as compared to their counterparts in rest of the regions. Furthermore, marginalised communities across the country are more likely to practice open defecation than the people from other communities. But when it comes to sharing a public toilet, people in urban places face more trouble. For example, with an estimated population of about 4.5 millions and availability of only 84 public toilets in Kathmandu Valley, there is one public toilet available for about 46,000 Valley denizens. To portray even terrible conditions in districts outside Kathmandu Valley, a The Kathmandu Post article on November 21 had highlighted that 12.3 and 21.5 percent adolescent girls drop out of schools in Udaypur and Sindhuli districts due to lack of proper toilets at local schools.
There is not doubt that Nepal has made significant progress in terms of increasing people’s access to toilets in recent decades as compared to other developing countries in Asia and Africa. However, Nepal’s achievements in this sector mainly come from improvements in toilet and sanitation conditions in places where initially only few individuals have had such facilities within their easy reach. In this respect, while country’s villages witnessed huge increase in the toilet converge figure for local inhabitants, variations in toilet possession ratio for citizens in major metropolises, including Kathmandu Valley, has remained negligible in the past. As highlighted by The Kathmandu Post in June this year, when the government came up with the National Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan in 2011, Kathmandu district already had toilet converge of about 94 percent. But even after the deadline for the plan nears, minimising the ratio of people to decent toilets remains a key challenge for the concerned authorities. Thus, no matter how hard our authorities try to achieve universal toilet coverage targets for Nepal’s every city; considering existing resources and infrastructures,public awareness and higher rural – urban migration trends; Nepalis will have to wait few more years to achieve all these targets. However, rather than to simply wait and watch for the government authorities and development partners to work on these priorities, private sector stakeholders and community groups too can take necessary steps to help the formers to meet their objectives on shortest possible time.
I see two possible initiatives –either building low-cost but clean toilets or employing alternative means to toilets – thatcould help authorities in Nepal to meet their universal access to decent toilets while also allowing them to cut off on the incidents of health and economic hazards from poor sanitation conditions. Some forms of inexpensive toilets that could well be created in Nepali households too include Solar Powered Urine Diversion (SPUD) toilets, portable tent toilets, LIXIL’s SaTo Pan, Garu Stainless Steel Public toilets and Dr. Bhindeshwar Pathak’s eco-friendly two pit, pour-flush compost toilet. All these toilet innovations have been helping millions of people in India and many of the African economies to prevent transfer of harmful materials from human feces to water bodies, food items and other platforms from where human are likely to contract a disease. Regarding an alternative to toilets, there exist very few options. Among them, a Kenyan innovation popularly known as PeePoo Toilets stands out. In the form of a slim and biodegradable bag, PeePoo Toilets let user to safely dispose human excreta in the absence of a toilet and also when there is inadequate sanitation. The bag sanitises thus disposed waste and converts it’s content into useful fertilizer in a month time.
Jaya Jung Mahat, an alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is a Kathmandu-based public policy researcher. He writes extensively on issues that connect economics, politics and innovation. He can be reached at email@example.com