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Toilets can help reduce food contamination

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on June 07, 2019 Published on June 07, 2019

Study finds open defecation affects quality of water, soil and food

Villages where people use toilets are much less likely to let poop contaminate their drinking water and food than those in which people defecate in the open.

A joint study conducted by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) and UNICEF points out that the construction of toilets has had a positive environmental impact on water, soil and food quality.

A hard reality

But, the study’s findings also indicate that despite the construction of toilets, contamination even in open defecation free (ODF) villages is a hard reality.

The study, conducted between December 2018 and May 2019, analysed 725 samples of water, soil and food collected from 12 ODF and 12 non-ODF villages in West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar.

While water samples were collected from the ground, surface, pipes and water stored in households, soil samples were picked up from groundwater resources, toilets and open fields. Food samples were collected from schools, anganwadis and dhabas.

Faecal bacteria

The samples were sent to an accredited laboratory to test them faecal bacteria. The study noted that those villages that are non-ODF are 12.7 times more likely to have their groundwater sources contaminated and 1.1 times more likely to have their soil contaminated.

People residing in such villages will be 2.16 times more likely to eat contaminated food and 2.48 times more likely to drink dirty water.

Contamination woe

Despite the construction of toilets, the levels of contamination even in ODF villages is substantial. In Bihar, for example, faecal contamination was found in 69.4 per cent of the samples in ODF villages (which had toilets). In villages that had no toilets, this was higher at 71.9 per cent.

In West Bengal, for instance, of all household water samples collected in ODF villages, 10 per cent were contaminated. This increased to almost 41.4 per cent in those villages where there were no toilets.

In Odisha, rain played a spoilsport and the study noted that co-incidence of rain with sample collection led to an effect where both ODF and non-ODF villages showed almost the same levels of faecal contamination in their samples.

Waste management

Agreeing to the findings of the report, newly-appointed Minister for Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said: “After ODF, there will be a start of ODF-plus campaign to put in place solid waste management disposal mechanisms in villages.”

Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar stressed on behavioural change through publicity.

Another parallel assessment on costing of Swachh Bharat Mission’s publicity by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reported that up to ₹4,000 crore was spent by the government, CSR and donors to publicise the campaign. “

“An average rural Indian was exposed to SBM (Swachh Bharat Mission) messaging up to 2,500-3,000 times in the last five years,” noted the assessment report.

Published on June 07, 2019
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