Sundarpur Notebook: It’s official – Open Defecation Free and clear
By- Kathryn Donovan
Sundarpur, Nepal, 6 January 2013 - Life took a turn the day a toilet was installed in the home of Pratima Dhamala, 13. She was 11 years old then and sick and tired and sometimes scared of going into the back yard to relieve herself.
“It was smelly, we were often ill,” she said, sitting cross legged with a group of buddies from the local child club here in Sundarpur, a small village of around 1,300 homes located in the eastern flatlands of Nepal, about 115 kilometers from Biratnagar.
She and her friends had met up one mild January morning to be part of the celebrations marking the declaration of their village as “Open Defecation Free”. This is serious business in Southeast Asia, where a recorded 600 million people are without toilets with resulting illnesses, even death for the most fragile, including infants and the elderly, due in part to diarrhea, a side effect of this kind of contamination.
As speaker after speaker spoke of the importance of not only preventing illnesses, but establishing an identity that includes decorum and privacy, a sense of pride was in the air.
For UNICEF Nepal, Sundarpur’s achievement – a toilet in every single home, and separate toilets for boys and girls in every school – also invoked feelings of pride and joy, and praise for the tremendous efforts of the Village Development Committee (VDC) and local activists from across the spectrum of politics and religion, as well as the child clubs.
Sundarpur rests very close to one of the world’s hotspots for “the most dangerous form of sanitation”, along the border of India, and is the fourth Open Defecation Free VDC in the District, an important step. Forty more VDC in the District to go, but homes and schools with toilets is proving to be a contagious social phenomenon.
Nationwide, the progress of safe sanitation over the past 10 years measured in the percentage of households with toilets has gone from 6 per cent in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2000 to 62 per cent by 2011.
Sundarpur’s moment in the sun is a reflection of the tremendous commitment by the government of Nepal, according to Ms. Singer.
“I can’t think of a single issue that has met with such unequivocal support from every part of the government, from the VDC to the Municpalities, to the Parliament, right up to the Prime Minister,” she said. “The Open Defecation Free idea has transformed into a social change agent fueled by a real desire to end this dangerous practice forever.”
“There is an agreed goal by all parties to end open defecation forever by 2017 and they have committed to the Sanitation Master Plan and UNICEF is committed to doing everything it can to help make it a reality.”
Ms. Singer also said that funds from donors, including the government of Finland, had been put to good use in advocating for and at times helping to actually implement facilities.
Hundreds of children showed up for Thursday’s event, sporting their school uniforms, enjoying the attention and frolicking in the fine weather. Children play a role in every part of Nepali society including a voice in decision making, and their willingness to use and promote the use of toilets was key.
For Pratima, who shares her house with her mother and father, six brothers and sisters, two wives of her brothers, two of their children and the dog, Pinky, the toilet means not only less queasiness, but privacy and physical safety both at home and school. And as puberty approaches, the desire to be able to close the door is a powerful urge.
“Life is just better now,” she said.