ODF champion in Punjab village leading fight against COVID-19

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Sanitizing village
Sarpanch sanitising the metalic surfces at a building. ©WSSCC/Raza Naqvi

By Raza Naqvi

Panthdeep Singh helped protect his Punjab village from disease by leading its effort to become open defecation free (ODF). Now he is putting many of the same sanitation and hygiene strategies to work in the fight against COVID-19.

Mr Singh, the Sarpanch (head) of the village of Chhina in India’s district of Gurdaspur, is ensuring that correct hygiene standards are enforced and met in his village.

“Ever since the lockdown was announced, I have been sanitizing the entire village every 48 hours, and I plan to do it until we overcome this crisis,” he said in a telephone conversation with WSSCC.

As India enforced a lockdown on March 25, Mr Singh assessed the gravity of the situation and arranged for a disinfectant (bleach) to combat the situation.

“I have arranged for a good quantity of bleach concentration which has more than five per cent of sodium hypochlorite,” said Mr Singh.

“Apart from that, I’ve also procured sanitizer to disinfect metallic surfaces across the village.”

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to loom over the world, India is among many nations making maximum efforts to combat this unprecedented pandemic. According to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, bleach is a strong and effective disinfectant. Its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, is effective in killing viruses.

Mr Singh has put up notices in prominent places to dissuade people from visiting the village and has been encouraging social distancing to the locals.

“Attention, please! Outsiders are not allowed into our village. Kindly support the lockdown to combat the threat of COVID-19,” the notices read.

When he realized the villagers were not aware of the need for social distancing, Mr Singh organized a workshop to improve their understanding of its importance.

“During the workshop, they were made to stand at a distance of more than one metre,” said Mr Singh.

“After the workshop, we distributed sanitizers so that they could sanitize their hands regularly,” he said.

Confronted by a shortage of face masks on the market, he sought the assistance of the Chhina village and the Saflata Self Help Group (SHG) in fabricating masks, and took it upon himself to distribute them to all the people in his village free of charge.

As India continues its lockdown, the Sarpanch has come up with a new plan to provide support to the poor.

“I will run a community kitchen until the government lifts the lockdown. Food will be served to migrant workers, daily wage earners and the poor,” he said.

In his previous work towards achieving ODF in Chhina, Mr Singh was instrumental in connecting each house of the village to the sewer and putting in place solid and liquid waste management systems. Under his leadership, the village of Chhina received a national Panchayat Award from the Government of India and, owing to his efforts, is now considered a model village.