I’ve been talking a lot of sh*t the last few weeks – with various events conspiring to get me on the topic of toilets, sanitation and hygiene! Dasra decided back in February this year to write a report on the urban sanitation crisis in India and were lucky enough to be introduced to a very inspiring Indian industrialist based in Pune, now running her family company’s foundation, the Forbes Marshall Foundation. The foundation have generously funded our research and we were particularly excited to have met an Indian philanthropist interested in this issue.
Toilets have therefore been on my mind as our report has now been completed and I am preparing for our UK launch., But quite unexpectedly at the Social Business Conference in early October I met another inspiring woman – Virginia Gardiner, the founder of Loowatt, the conference’s winning social business. A week later I found myself at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s exhibition launch – an exhibition on toilets! Again an inspiring key note was delivered by a woman, Val Curtis. I wonder if it is a coincidence that it seems to be women who are especially inspired by this critical development issue…
People, particularly women and children, in India are literally dying to go to the loo. Dasra’s report is peppered with some staggering statistics that point to over 1,000 children under 5 years dying every day because of diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation − not just diarrhoea but also acute respiratory diseases. 70 per cent of girls in Delhi slums experience verbal harassment every day when going to the toilet, with half of them falling prey to grave physical assaults or rape. Without water supplies and toilets within their homes, and unable to openly defecate during the day due to lack of privacy and for fear of harassment, women and girls wait for nightfall and to find a secluded spot to defecate − a practice that has serious side effects. Waiting so long to relieve themselves increases the chances of contracting urinary tract infections, chronic constipation and psychological stress. That apart, it creates irreparable complications during pregnancy and postnatal recovery. So it’s hardly surprising that this issue encourages women champions!
The facts are all there in the report and make depressing reading, reading that many are uncomfortable with. One of the reasons we were so passionate about this report is that there is a huge bias in Indian philanthropy towards education and basic health service provision, with some critical but perhaps unsavoury issues being neglected and relying far too heavily on international funding. With the Squatting Rights report, for example, we are breaking the mould, and the next report we have funded is on the prevention of child trafficking, another issue in India that is traditionally ignored by local donors.
How do we get people engaged in this issue? We have been surprised and heartened by the reception the report has received in the Indian press, with our findings picked up in a wide number of papers. Jack Sim – known as Mr Toilet − is a genius at using humour to build support. His World Toilet Organization is at the forefront of not just campaigning but also implementation, and stealing the WTO’s acronym has done him far more good than harm! Gates’ Reinvent the Toilet competition has also garnered media attention, so finally this much-ignored issue appears to be moving up the development agenda. Sadly it appears that the sanitation MDG is highly likely to be missed by 2015, but the good news is that hygiene is likely to be included in any next goal setting – it was sorely missed from the first campaign.
The good news is that for every $1 spent on improving sanitation or hygiene practice, $4 dollars are saved in health, education and economic development. Our report also identifies some great organizations delivering programs that align with other critical players to build a successful multi stakeholder approach. With such value for money it seems like a no-brainer that we should be able to persuade a new generation of philanthropists in India to fund this cause − if not for basic dignity and human rights then for economic reasons, as the sanitation crisis is costing India 6.4 per cent of its GDP.
Alison Bukhari is director of investor relations at Dasra