Chasing the Dream of an Open Defecation Free South Asia


Dhaka, Bangladesh: ‘Beyond Just Toilets – Fast tracking an Open Defecation Free South Asia’ the International Conclave held at Pan Pacific Sonargaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh on 11  January 2015 planted the seed of a dream of a
n Open Defecation Free (ODF) South Asia. The initiative of chasing the dream of ODF South Asia region was endorsed by more than 100 participants of the global conclave, that included policy and decision makers, practitioners, program managers from at least 30 different organizations across five South Asian countries of India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The significance of the conclave ‘Beyond Just Toilets’ organised jointly by CLTS Foundation and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Geneva is immense and enormous. This is particularly important in view of the challenge of eliminating open defection from the South Asian region and achieving an open defecation free South Asia during the SDG period.

Speaking at the conclave, Dr. Kamal Kar, Chairman, CLTS Foundation said: “This conclave is very important in disseminating the learning from the great success of Bangladesh in achieving nearly open defecation free status over the last decade through local community empowerment triggered by the use of community led total sanitation approach.”


Dr. Kamal Kar, Chairman, CLTS Foundation

Dr. Kar said, “I distinctly remember the day when I was introducing Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) through my keynote speech at the inaugural technical session of the first SACOSAN held here in Dhaka in 2003. CLTS was only two years old at the time when access to basic sanitation in Bangladesh was around 35%. Open defecation was rampant in rural Bangladesh.”

“Bangladesh was one of the countries that had highest rate of infant mortality in the world. Radical transformation has taken place since then and those statistics are history now. Bangladesh is one of the countries in the region and in the world that has created a glittering example in drastically reducing child mortality and human drudgery in such a short time. This could be emulated by many developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to make our planet free from open defecation and saving lives of millions of children from premature death,” explained Dr. Kar.

Since the emergence of CLTS at Bangladesh in 2000 it has spread to more than 67 countries across three continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Roughly over 40 million people across the globe are living in open defecation free environment. However, nearly 2 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation and millions dying from waterborne diseases mainly caused by faecal oral contamination and poor sanitation. “We have to go a long way. In South Asia alone, 38% of the population still practice open defecation. Bangladesh is surrounded by India, a nation which has the world’s largest number of open defecators,” said the chairman of CLTS Foundation. Minus India, the ODF population of South Asia reduces drastically to 8% (JMP Report 2015).

The conclave recognised the vast and complex problem of open defecation of India that constitutes the largest proportion of open defecation in the region. The speakers and participants appreciated and highly praised the recent initiative of Indian Prime Minister in prioritizing sanitation and initiating and launching a massive program – Swachh Bharat Mission. According to Sujoy Majumdar, UNICEF India, a concerted effort is being made to intensely involve and engage local government, NGOs and civil society organisations in the SBM to create more public awareness, which is also the cornerstone of the success in Bangladesh.

While recognizing household subsidy as the most persistent bottleneck of eliminating OD in India, some speakers flagged the recent initiative of the state of Chhattisgarh that initiated CLTS without any hardware subsidy in some areas and achieved inspiring success.

While appreciating the achievement of Bangladesh in eliminating open defecation, all participants recognized that it has been possible mainly because of their focus on collective behavior change rather than on construction of toilets. Anowarul Haq, Director, Extreme Rural Poverty Program, Care, Bangladesh emphasized the great potential of CLTS in attaining wider development benefits like livelihoods, food security, eliminating hunger, primary education, inequality, health etc referring to the achievements made by CARE’s programme in Bangladesh. Echoing his views, Tom Palakudiyil, Interim Director of International Programmes, WaterAid stated that sanitation was a means to achieving the end of poverty. Palakudiayil further stated that for us to succeed as a global community it is important for diverse sectors and stakeholders to work together in an integrated and collaborative manner.

The same had been the experience from Nepal and Afghanistan as presented by Sudha Shrestha Acting Chief Technical Advisor / GSF Programme Manager, UN-HABITAT, Nepal and Mohammad Afzal Safi, WASH Programme Advisor, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Department, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Government of Afghanistan.Nepal and Pakistan shifted their national sanitation policy from prescriptive and subsided toilet construction to no subsidy CLTS.While speaking to the gathering, Ms. Shrestha said that after the recent earthquake in Nepal, the affected communities started building up their toilets first and then their houses. An impact of positive behavior change was also seen when there were very few diarrehea cases reported after the earthquake.

One of the highlights of the evening was the inspiring talk by four Natural Leaders (spontaneous leaders emerging from the process of CLTS) including a Chairman of Union Parishad( Local Government institution at the community level) on their experience of implementation and scaling up CLTS in their respective areas and beyond.

The session on “Role of media in triggering debates and influencing policies’ stressed the lack of priority given to issues of sanitation and public health in journalism at present across South Asia and India in particular. The speakers also underlined the importance of media in creating public awareness on such issues so as to create pressure on policy makers by showcasing the brilliant success across Bangladesh and also in some pockets of India. At all levels, decentralization of policy making and decision making was emphasized by the journalists. Zafar Siobhan, Editor of Dhaka Tribune moderated the session.

Lakkhichhara, a popular Bengali rock music band from Kolkata put to music a catchy song capturing the positive impact of CLTS in Bangladesh, ending with a call to spread this experience elsewhere in the region.

This was first published here. 

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