World Toilet Day aims to raise awareness about sanitation

World Today

World Toilet Day aims to raise awareness about sanitation Indian women carry toilets on their heads during the opening ceremony of the three-day International Toilet Festival in New Delhi on November 18, 2014, the eve of World Toilet Day. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT

Hundreds of volunteers marched through New Delhi on Tuesday to raise awareness of the need for clean sanitation.

The walk was organised by Sulabh International, a non-profit organisation that helps to build toilets and promote sanitation issues across India.

The walk was part of “World Toilet Day,” a worldwide initiative taking place on November 19.

Volunteers shouted the slogan, “Toilets for all by 2019”, and carried rural toilet pots above their heads, and in their hands a lota, a vessel used for carrying water to the bathroom for washing.

UNICEF estimates that almost 594 million — or nearly 50 percent of India’s population — defecate in the open, with the situation acute in dirt-poor rural areas. Some 300 million women and girls are forced to squat outside normally under the cover of darkness, exposed not only to the risks of disease and bacterial infection, but also harassment and assault by men.

“We want to propagate the idea of having toilets in each and every house. This is very important,” said founder of Sulabh International, Bindeshwar Pathak.

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Pathak also said that the event was aimed at raising awareness of discrimination against people who work cleaning toilets, the so-called “untouchables,” the lowest rung in India’s rigid caste system.

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had launched a nationwide mission on October 02, birth anniversary of India’s iconic freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi, to raise awareness of cleanliness and better sanitation among its citizens under the banner of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ or Clean India Mission.

On the same day, a national holiday, Modi had ordered government workers, including his ministers, to come to work and sweep offices and clean toilets.

Meanwhile, school children actively participated in the festival saying they wanted to see India clean.

“I want you all to be encouraged, get motivated by all these people who are here, including me and my friends, not to pollute the environment and to create toilets where ever possible,” said a school student, Diksha.

Less than a third of India’s 1.2 billion people have access to sanitation.

Modi wants every home and school to have access to a toilet by 2019, in time for the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth.

Report compiled with information from AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press.