Today is the World Toilet Day. The day was officially designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 to inspire action to tackle global sanitation crisis. With this blog post I wish to share some of our fresh emerging findings that we have not published yet. Somebody could say that I am unnecessarily self-critical here, the findings below are from our working communities after all, but this is not my aim. My aim is to draw attention to the fact that even if communities and entire districts have been declared ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF), and many places are on the fast track towards ‘Total Sanitation' -status, there is still a lot of work to be done. Sanitation and hygiene crisis is not over. People with toilets are not using them, or they are not using them at all times. The facilities are not accessible to all, they may lack water, hand-washing remains a dream that in theory is supposed to be possible (if you ask about it), but not in practice (if you truly want to wash your hands).
Photo: High-level sanitation at an altitude of 3,700 m. Public toilet at Muktinath bus park, Mustang district, supported by RWSSP-WN
Over the past few years, we have been using a mobile phone based application to map sanitation and hygiene status across our working areas. How can we claim that some area is ‘Open Defecation Free’ or some cluster qualifies to declare ‘Total Sanitation’ if we do not really know? We do want to know, and we do want to be confident that if we report some area as 'ODF' or 'Total Sanitation declared', it truly is so. We have used this app also to explore the behavioural factors, aiming to sharpen our behavior change techniques accordingly, searching for real and sustainable change in sanitation and hygiene.
RWSSP-WN II has found in its earlier studies (see for instance the study conducted in Baluhawa VDC of Kapilvastu District (RWSSP-WN Brief 11-2016) and Silautiya VDC in Rupandehi (RWSSP-WN Brief 10-2017), that even if the households have a latrine, it may not be used by all family members, or it may not be used at all times, i.e., open defecation continues regardless of the 100% toilet coverage. In September 2017 we conducted a survey on various behavioral factors in a municipality where these clusters had been declared as ‘ODF’.
Mayadevi Municipality is located along the Nepal-India border in Kapilvastu district. The toilet use survey, with the total 161 respondents, was done in three wards, seeking for equal number of those who always use toilet and those who do not. In practice, the enumerators reported that it was hard to find those who always used their toilets, and that in practice, even if the wards had been declared as ‘ODF’, majority of the toilets were not completed. It was also striking, from the behavior change technique point of view, that out of all female respondents, 90% had no schooling. Out of all female respondents, 71% were illiterate, the corresponding figures for male respondents being 54% no schooling and 34% illiterate. Out of the total sample, more than half are illiterate. This is a strong message for the behavior change communications: there is both the language issue to consider, and literacy. The most literate age group in this sample is 18-29, but even in this group 40% reported ‘no schooling’. Among the three Wards, the Ward 2 has the most poor record with 82% without schooling. Only 3% of all the female respondents reported reading anything at all.
The challenges are not only Tarai specific. For a long time we made a lot of assumptions with regards to hill communities, one of them being that yes, if the community is declared ‘ODF’, it probably does have temporary toilets and those toilets are used. We also assumed that in Western Nepal there would not be a Chhaupadi-type of problems, that this has to do with the remote Mid and Far Western Nepal. We were wrong. This is what we have found from Gulmi, Baglung, Palpa (hill districts) and Rupandehi (Tarai district) by far in total 146 household toilet use surveys – all respondents having a toilet of which 81% were with permanent structure and roof, others missing out roof or having temporary walls, yet