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20-year-old Manish Yadav said that his father, Dinesh, used toilets only when he was too ill to go to the field, saying that the four walls suffocated him.
“It is very difficult to convince people from his generation and next to impossible for my grandfather’s generation,” said Manish.
Manish has encountered many older adults who have refused to use toilets at home, saying it is the daughters-in-law and female members of the households who use the toilets.
“One of the reasons for me to get involved in sanitation and hygiene as a volunteer is because I have seen that, as children, we can convince our parents to use toilets.”
Then came the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, the lockdown made it difficult for Bidesh and Dinesh to go out of the house to defecate in the open. Besides, handwashing with soap was difficult and they were well aware of the consequences.
Bidesh said he was scared of transmitting coronavirus to his children and elderly parents at home so he strictly followed the guidelines to stay home, using a toilet and maintaining hand hygiene to protect himself and his loved ones. “In the beginning it was difficult but later I got habituated to it. Fear of death of loved ones changed my behaviour,” said Bidesh.
Cognizant of the importance of proper hygiene in the communities, especially in times of COVID-19, volunteers like Manish and facilitators continued their activities under the “Total Sanitation Programme (TSP).”
TSP is a post ODF program which ensures that total sanitation situation is achieved at households, schools, health facilities and other institutions; practice of hand washing with soap at critical times; safe handling and treatment of drinking water at household’s level; proper personal hygiene; and proper solid and liquid waste management.
“We offered to provide technical support, if needed, to build a toilet. We told him the consequences of getting caught defecating in the open by the ward office officials which will bring shame to his family,” said Jay Kumar Yadav, a TSP facilitator of Ratauli Yuwa Club (RYC). “We also explained him about how his open defecating behavior is putting his children and elderly parents at risk to Corona virus.”
After six months of technical support and regular engagement, Bidesh finally recognized the importance of having his own toilet.
In a world where some 9% of the global population still practices open defecation, the Government of Nepal declared the country free from open defecation in September 2019 and is rapidly scaling up to provide access to safely managed sanitation services as the next priority.
Nepal has received international support for realizing its sanitation and hygiene targets, including financing from the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). WSSCC is evolving into Sanitation and Hygiene Fund to support the world’s poorest more effectively and ensure nobody is left behind in achieving the sanitation and hygiene-related Sustainable Development Goal.
To sustain open defecation free (ODF) status, and mitigate ODF slippage, WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund started the Total Sanitation Programme in eight Terai districts in February 2020, executed by the UN-Habitat in close coordination with the local governments.
According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019 prepared by the National Planning Commission and UNICEF, 84.1% of the population of Province no. 2 the second most populous province in the southeastern region of Nepal.is using improved sanitation facilities.
In February, the GSF/UN-Habitat also launched the TSP in Gaushala Municipality, Balawa Municipality and Pipara Rural Municipality of Mahottari, covering 12,733 households.
“79 new toilets have already been constructed, even during the lockdown,” said Mahesh Joshi, Programme Coordinator at RYC/GSF/UN-Habitat. “We will scale up awareness campaigns to increase construction of new toilets as per the need,” he said.
Local governments continued their awareness campaigns, even during the lockdown, to encourage people to build new toilets and handwashing facilities at home.
“There is a major improvement in the local people’s behaviour on sanitation and hygiene after we kicked off the TSP,” said Mr Joshi. “But this has to be continued in order for them to make a habit of maintaining sanitation and hygiene.”
According to a WSSCC report ‘Sprinting the last mile: Nepal’s sanitation campaign in Terai,’ strong social norms for open defecation and taboos against using toilets were among the major challenges for the ODF campaign.
TSP facilitators are helping to change behaviour. In the last four months, 116 handwashing facilities (HWS) and 122 dishwashing stations have been constructed under the programme, 83 toilets have been upgraded, and 89 households have completed water purification.
Mr Bikram Chaudhary, Chairperson of Pipara Rural Municipality, said that the behaviour change regarding sanitation and hygiene among the locals had improved drastically after the total sanitation campaign started in February.
“Behavior changes take time and in this rural municipality; we are facing challenges due to illiteracy and poverty,” said Mr Chaudhary.
“But the massive awareness campaign with the support of GSF and other partners, even during a lockdown, has helped improve the use of toilets and maintain hand hygiene.”
He said that even the rural municipality had prioritized ODF sustainability and TSP, primarily focusing on the poor Dalit community so that every member of the house starts using toilets.
“Since social behaviour change is a long-term process, and it takes a long time for the community to stick to it, I request all the development partners, media and the NGOs involved in this sector to continue the programme even after the TSP comes to an end..”
Ms Sudha Shrestha, the acting Chief Technical Advisor of the GSF/UN-Habitat, said that ODF sustainability is one of the challenges in the Terai districts of the GSF coverage area and that there is a need to change social norms in the communities in order to reduce their risk of reverting back to their previous behaviour.
“Regular Community-Led Total Sanitation facilitation helped bring about behaviour change, and active engagement of local governments throughout the programme will strengthen ODF sustainability and improve hand hygiene,” said Ms Shrestha.