"Half the slum is knee-deep in water during high monsoons. There is no electricity, no water supply. And the worst is that we do not have toilets," said Tara Mia, a vegetable hawker who lives with his wife and three children in a Dhaka slum.
Finding a latrine or somewhere to relieve yourself in the slums of Dhaka is not easy. Bholar Basti, one of the capital's many slums, has a population of around 6,500. "Children don't have much problem. They go to the far side of the slum where the marsh is. But for grown-ups like us, especially our women, it is an everyday humiliation," said Mia.
The municipal authorities have built only three community latrines for the whole slum. Only those whose houses are near the latrines actually use them. Each morning 50-60 people, of both sexes, wait in a long queue to use them, with little or no privacy.
Such conditions are even worse in rural Bangladesh where ignorance, poverty, the traditional practice of open defecation, the use of hanging latrines (flimsy structures built on stilts over rivers and streams), and lack of knowledge about hand-washing pose a serious threat to hygiene and the environment.
Bangladesh continues to have a very high rate of diarrhoeal diseases, as well as one of the highest rates of under-five mortality and morbidity due to diarrhoeal diseases, though the situation has been improving.
In September 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals that challenged the global community to reduce poverty and increase the health and well-being of all peoples. In September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg reaffirmed these goals and added access to basic sanitation as a centerpiece of the poverty eradication commitments. The target to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2105 was defined in the Johannesburg Plan of Action (JPOI).
Despite significant efforts by governments, progress on sanitation targets has been slow and uneven. Recognising the impact of sanitation on public health, poverty reduction, economic and social development, and the environment, the General Assembly decided to declare 2008 the International Year of Sanitation (GA resolution 61/192 of 20 December 2006). The General Assembly encouraged member States as well as the United Nations system, to take advantage of the International Year to increase awareness of the importance of sanitation to promote action at all levels.
Better than before?
Across Bangladesh, the situation is much better than it was 30 years ago both in terms of the proportion of the population with access to improved sanitary facilities and in terms of absolute numbers.
In the late 1970s, the national sanitation coverage was 2 percent, while over 300,000 children under five died of diarrhoeal diseases annually.
In the early 1980s, the government of Bangladesh, with money and technical assistance from the international community, moved to change things, and by 2000 Bangladesh had achieved considerable success in installing sanitary latrines throughout the country.
Today the majority of households have access to improved sanitation facilities, and diarrhoeal deaths have been dramatically reduced.
The 2004 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) showed 7 percent of under-fives died of diseases related to diarrhoea from 1999-2003. According to UNICEF there has been a steady decline in the under-five mortality rate - from 151 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 77 in 2007.
Despite these achievements, huge challenges for the world's most densely populated nation remain. In line with the country's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Bangladesh has set a target of achieving "Sanitation for All by 2010", while the year 2008 has been declared the "Year of Sanitation”.
Sanitation in this goal is defined as access to a covered-pit latrine in which the faeces are kept isolated from the environment. The pit is then covered with earth, and a new pit latrine is made for use. Sanitation also includes safe disposal of children’s faeces, proper hand-washing practices before eating and after defecation, and hand-washing after cleaning the faeces of a child.
Photo: Ahmed Orko Noor/IRIN
|Break down of latrine usage in Bangladesh|
Currently 382 unions (lowest unit of elected local government comprising clusters of villages), 25 sub-districts and 14 municipalities (a tiny fraction of the country’s population) have been declared to have achieved 100 percent sanitation, meaning everyone in those localities uses sanitary latrines.
From 2010-2015 Bangladesh will be aiming at achieving 100 percent coverage through regular supply of hardware and proper maintenance, coupled with a sustained campaign on hygienic hand-washing habits, Engineer Ibrahim of the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) said.
He was confident the 100 percent sanitation coverage target was achievable: "The present coverage is 85 percent, and it will not be difficult to push it up to 95 percent. However, we will need more government funds to attain 100 percent coverage by 2010," Ibrahim said.
A baseline survey on national sanitation coverage conducted in 2003 entitled DPHE National Sanitation Secretarial Progress Report, June 2005 found that 43 percent of people used some sort of covered pit latrine. The survey included 21.04 million of the country's 25.4 million households.
The survey showed that 13 percent of the population used water-sealed latrines, 30 percent used pit latrines, 34 percent used hanging latrines and 23 percent continued with open defecation.
Thirty-two percent of the open defecators were impoverished, 4 percent did not have the land on which to erect a latrine, and 7 percent lacked awareness.
Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
|Dil Raushan, 23, is lucky to be able to use the toilet at the home of her employer while she works|
Role of government
Paul Edwards, UNICEF's chief of water and environmental sanitation section in Dhaka, cited the important role of the government in moving things forward.
"Rewarding those unions that achieve 100 percent sanitation coverage, and the observance of October as sanitation month each year since 2003, are very positive moves taken by the government," Edward said, adding: "Statistics gathered in recent months show quite a large increase in sanitation coverage in 2007."
According to the government, the sanitation coverage figure is 85 percent, while a multiple indicator cluster survey conducted in 2006 revealed that 39 percent of people had access to improved sanitation facilities.
"Government figures are giving reasonable estimates of households that have a toilet of some description, but not necessarily conforming to the accepted slab and ring latrine which is a standard of improved sanitation," Edwards said.
"The challenge now is to bring the standard of household toilets up to a level which meets the minimum criteria of adequately separating human faeces from the environment."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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