Unicef: How will Bihar fight polio without toilets?

SAHARSA – The lack of toilets is raising a stink in Bihar as it tries hard to shake off polio – a disease that spreads through the faecal-oral route. Open defecation is common practice in a majority of villages in the state’s high risk northcentral regions.

“My village has a population of 9,000 and we have no toilets. I have written to the district administration several times to provide funds for the construction of toilets but have not received any reply,” Meena Devi, panchayat head of Kaidli village in the Saharsa district, told IANS.

The central government allotted a whopping Rs.14,014 crore under the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) for the construction of toilets in the country in 2008 with eradicating open defecation high on its agenda.

But people in some parts of Bihar are yet to get the benefits of the scheme.

Tejender Yadav, head of the gram samiti in Gari village here, said: “There is one toilet in my village for a population over 10,000 and you can understand how many people are able to use it. Every state gets a stipulated amount under TSC for the construction of toilets, but we have no clue where the funds go as my village has not received any funds after 2007.”

Members of the Saharsa Zila Parishad, the body responsible for making, executing and coordinating the programmes of rural development for the entire district, alleged misuse of funds under the campaign.

“Money allotted under TSC doesn’t reach the beneficiary and the funds are being misused by government departments. Whenever I ask the authorities concerned to show me the documents related to TSC they always refuse to share any details,” said Neelam Bhagat, deputy chairperson of the Saharsa Zila Parishad.

But the district authorities denied any irregularities in the use of funds under TSC.

“We have so far received Rs.15 million for the construction of toilets. The money was given to the Public Health Engineering Department that distributes the funds to NGOs for the construction of toilets. We have ensured that high risk blocks in the district are given priority,” said Saharsa district magistrate R. Lakshmanan.

“We get Rs.2,500 per toilet for the bamboo structure. I think the budget needs to be improved for proper implementation of the scheme. Another problem we face is getting good NGOs to work here,” he said.

A fixed amount of Rs.2,500 is given for individual household latrines (IHHLs) under TSC. The central government provides Rs.1,500, the state government shells out Rs.700 while the beneficiary has to give Rs.300.

According to a United Nations estimate, around 600 million people or 55 percent of Indians still defecate in the open.

The government has been laying emphasis on construction of toilets in the polio-affected states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Bihar reported 110 polio cases this year, 38 being of the highly infectious polio strain virus P1 and the remaining of the P3 strain.

According to the health department, the problem is that people are not aware of the ill-effects of open defecation and in some villages they defecate in the open despite having toilets.

“People are not aware why open defecation is harmful to them. In some villages people can themselves afford toilets, but they don’t feel that it is necessary. Open defecation is the biggest threat to the polio eradication drive in the the state,” said Azad Hind Prasad, Saharsa’s chief medical officer.

“Polio is a viral disease which spreads from person to person like via the faecal-oral route. Open defecation is a major reason behind the polio virus spreading.”

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at richa.s@ians.in) – From Taragana

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