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Addressing Poor Sanitation in India

 

Children wash their hands at an ECD center in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Children wash their hands at an ECD center in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Poor sanitation systems are among the leading causes of the spread of preventable diseases in developing nations. ChildFund works in some of the world's most poverty-stricken countries to provide children in need and their families with access to improved sanitation systems, including India. Although substantial gains have been made in increasing access to improved sanitation in India and other countries, many families still lack these facilities. To address the urgent problem of substandard sanitation in India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of this important issue.

Reinventing the Toilet

Working in partnership with India's Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council, the foundation has launched the Reinvent the Toilet initiative. This collaborative endeavor aims to improve the health of families living in poverty across India by encouraging innovation in sanitation technology. A primary objective of the project is to develop cost-effective, sustainable solutions to inadequate sanitation systems in both rural and urban areas, with an emphasis on helping poverty-stricken families have access to better sanitation systems.

In 2011, approximately 615 million people lacked access to adequate sanitation systems in their communities and were forced to defecate openly. Not only is this practice an indignity, it also presents a major threat to human health. Millions of tons of sludge and fecal matter are dredged from open-air pits, which leads to a substantial health hazard for communities without the means to safely dispose of this waste. In fact, according to UNICEF, poor sanitation is partially responsible for the stunting of more than 65 million Indian children.

Leveraging Technology

As serious as India's sanitation problems are, there is hope. According to Deloitte, India currently ranks fourth in terms of its manufacturing competitiveness. The country's potential strength in industrial design and manufacturing could put India in an ideal position to tackle its sanitation problem through innovation.

"We have the capacity to emerge as the second best destination for manufacturing in the world in terms of its strength in design and technology, resource base, rich pool of young talented people and entrepreneurial spirit by 2020," says Ajay Shankar, member secretary of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council.

One of the key challenges facing India and other countries where poor sanitation remains a serious problem is combining the functionality that toilets need to reduce the spread of infectious diseases while remaining cost-effective enough to be provided to these countries' poorest communities. For example, toilets commonly found in developed nations are largely impractical in developing countries due to the large volumes of water required. Also, a lack of waste disposal systems make designing a next-generation toilet a considerable challenge.

Helping Families

ChildFund has worked in India since 1951, and a key part of our work in the country focuses on early childhood development. Although this mainly involves supporting the cognitive, social and physical development of children in need, our ECD centers also provide parents with training on crucial topics such as hygiene and sanitation. Many of our ECD centers are located in India's poorest communities, making them vital resources for families affected by poor sanitation and a range of other challenges, including a lack of access to health care and nutritious food.

Nov. 19 is World Toilet Day, and as we approach that date, keep in mind how you can help children live healthier lives and fulfill their potential.

One of the best ways you can help a child living in poverty in India is by becoming a child sponsor. For just $28 per month, you can ensure that a child has everything he or she needs to survive, including food, clean drinking water, health care and access to improved sanitation systems. Your support will make a world of difference, so please consider sponsoring a child today.

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