India, as the seventh largest country in the world with a population of about 1.34 billion people, has been the fourth fastest growing economy, making progress in almost every field in leaps and bounds. So it may come as a surprise that as many as 732 million people did not have access to clean toilets and the sanitation coverage stood at a dismal 39% till 2014. A report by WaterAid puts the number of children under the age of five dying of diarrhea every year at a gut-wrenching 60,700! It's time to talk about this very serious problem that is robbing the country's children of their childhood and a healthy life.
Acknowledging the problem
This video, showing 9-year old Laali's efforts to put together a cricket team along with her friends, sums up the problem. All her efforts to keep her team players healthy and fit to play in the cricket tournament on behalf of her village Ramkulla, go in vain. In spite of putting their heart and soul into practicing for the big day, the team members keep on falling sick with bouts of diarrhea and on the day of the match, Laali doesn't have 11 members to make a team.
There are many more Laalis around the country who are losing their childhood to poor sanitation. Approximately 9.2% of children suffer from diarrhea at any given time as per the National Family Health Survey of 2015-2016, leading to prolonged absences from school and loss of some of the most crucial years of their growth- both mentally as well as physically. According to UNICEF, water-borne diseases like diarrhea are the number one reason for the death of children in India.
The same report says that around 48% of children in India are suffering from some degree of malnutrition that further brings about stunted growth. Many of these cases have been traced all the way back to the spread of germs through faecal-oral transmission, driving home the seriousness of the sanitation challenge. Even after all these years of over-all progress, around 60% of the world's open defecation happens in India!
Changing hygiene behaviour on ground To complement the government's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat, Swachh Bharat initiative in order to change the hygiene behaviour of people across the country. Before talking about ways of bringing about this hygiene revolution, it becomes imperative to understand the points of intervention wherein you can stop the disease from spreading. These include:
- During open defecation
- While drinking water that might not be clean
- Poor hygiene practices such as not washing hands
Taking due cognizance of these possible areas where programmes can be put into force, HUL worked towards bringing about a change in WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) habits, in sync with its tagline Haath Munh Bum- Bimari hogi kam. This was done by creating awareness about:
- using toilets and ensuring they are kept clean and germ-free (Will bring down diarhhoeal morbidity by 36%)
- drinking purified water (Proven to bring down the rate of diarrheal cases by 39%)
- washing hands with soap to avoid transmission of germs (Will reduce diarhhoeal cases by 44%)
Swachh Basti- A behavior change programme that has been in force in urban slums and is being executed through door-to-door sessions and doctor/school contact programs; has impacted 2 lakh lives since 2016.
Suvidha Centre- A prototype water-hygiene-sanitation centre set up in Ghatkopar has been helping its 1200 citizens live a healthier life ever since it has been set up.
Swachhata Curriculum- A 21-day textbook that tells children why and how to adopt healthy habits in a format that is fun and engaging.
Swachhata Doot- A one-of-its-kind, mobile-first volunteering program that, as an Active Citizen initiative, empowers people to become agents of change in their communities.
Becoming a game changer
Keeping the country clean and its citizens healthy is not the responsibility of the government alone. We've each got roles to play, duties to fulfill- duties towards the nation and its children who are its future. It is upon us to decide and determine whether this future has any hopes of becoming brighter or will it submerge into the shadows of ill health and poor sanitation. You have the power to bring about change, to become an influencer and educate people you come across every day who do not have easy access to the most basic of facilities and are simply unaware of healthy habits. Even a single life changed starts a chain reaction that refuses to lose its momentum.
Join HUL's Swachh Aadat, Swachh Bharat campaign and be instrumental in restoring the childhood of thousands of children across the country. Become a Swachhata Doot and teach the 3 simple habits of keeping a clean Haath, Munh, Bum. It is said that all change begins at home. Educate your house help, your milkman, your vegetable seller, the society guard- there are so many lives you can touch! This program has already impacted several lives and you too can bring about a monumental change by joining this movement. Remember- every single life saved counts. Who knows, you might be able to bring the joy back to someone like Laali and restore her childhood.
So pledge your commitment to the cause so that we have a cricket team of not just all players, but a billion in the times to come. Come, join hands with HUL to become a Swachhata Doot and do your bit for your community. For, as the famous American historian Howard Zinn once said, "Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world."