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With more than 1,000 Indian children dying from diarrhea every day, India is the undisputed world leader in child mortality from preventable diarrhea, far ahead of Pakistan, Bangladesh or China. There are two main causes for this daily tragedy in India. First, the country’s rampant open defecation. 626 million Indians defecate on railroad tracks, roadside ditches and other open spaces in and around their communities every day, creating a pile of disease-loaded excrement that very literally would fill Mumbai’s Wankhede cricket stadium to the roof - every day. With one gram of human excrement containing up to 10 million viruses, one million bacteria and 100 parasite eggs, this is the biggest weapon of mass destruction on the planet.
The second reason is poor hand hygiene. Handwashing with soap at critical times (after defecating; before eating; before preparing food; and following menstrual hygiene management) can reduce the occurrence of diarrhea nearly by half, making it by far the most cost-effective intervention to combat diarrheal disease. Unfortunately, this superhero among hygiene practices is not yet widely practiced in India. According to the Public Health Association, only 53 per cent of the Indian population hand washes with soap after defecation; 38 per cent hand washes with soap before eating; and only 30 per cent washes hands with soap before preparing food.
The Nirmal Bharat Yatra (NBY) now aims to change these behaviours. Organized by WASH United and Quickand in collaboration with the Indian government’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the Yatra “harnesses the passion for cricket, Bollywood-style entertainment and never-seen-before interactive games to reach more than 90 million Indians with crucial hand-washing and sanitation information and train 30,000 school children in good handwashing behavior along the nearly 2,000 km route that will take the Yatra from Maharashtra to Bihar in more than 50 days. Our goal is to make handwashing with soap and toilet use cool and sexy,” explains Thorsten Kiefer, Executive Director of WASH United. The Yatra has the support and active participation of Hon. Jairam Ramesh, Bollywood star Vidya Balan and cricket heroes such as Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan, to name but a few. At the opening day in Wardha, Maharashtra, 13,000 people attended the Yatra to learn about hygiene and sanitation through fun and play.
15 October is Global Handwashing Day (GHD), which aims to further spread good handwashing practice around the world. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra will celebrate GHD with a handwashing mega-party in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. The carnival-style mela will boast more than 20 different interactive hygiene and sanitation games, exciting Bollywood-style stage performances, as well as addresses by senior political decision makers committed to promote hand hygiene and sanitation in India such as Hon. Jairam Ramesh (Minister of Rural Development and Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India) and Hon. Shivraj Singh Chauhan (Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh). A special highlight will be the “Soap Lab”, where visitors can learn how to build their own “tippy taps”, ingenious handwashing facilities that cost less than USD $1 to create, and can check their hand-hygiene status using ultraviolet light.
In addition, the Nirmal Bharat Yatra will unveil the world’s biggest handwashing ambassador. Bullbulle (Hindi for bubbles) is a fully-grown elephant will make a splash handing out soap to Carnival attendees who have demonstrated their handwashing skills to her!
Key partners of the Yatra include the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation (Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), WaterAid, Arghyam/Indian Water Portal, Goonj, UNICEF, FANSA, and EAWAG.
The Nirmal Bharat Yatra dates