Mazhar Khan

To create a healthy environment across the province, Public health engineering department has recently started a project called Open Defecation Free Punjab. Under this 3-year program, Punjab government in collaboration with UNICEF shall be constructing around two hundred thousand toilets for 1.3 million population in around 1,775 high risk villages across the province. In Punjab, 13 percent of the population still practice open defecation. With this project, Punjab government can reduce stunting and under 5 mortality rate among children.

As per WHO, the decade ended in 2010, a total of 12 countries accounted for almost three-quarters of the people who practiced open defecation. India topped the chart with 626 million population and Pakistan stood third with 40 million people practicing OD.

Fast forward to 2017, 45 percent of the world population had access to a safely managed sanitation service whereas two billion people had no access to toilets. Of these, 673 million still defecate under the sky, like street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water. Unfortunately, 10% of the world’s population is buying vegetables or other food items irrigated by wastewater. As per WHO, “Cropland in peri-urban areas irrigated by mostly untreated urban wastewater is estimated to be approximately 36 million hectares (equivalent to the size of Germany)”. Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio and exacerbates stunting. Poor or inappropriate sanitation system has caused 432,000 diarrheal deaths annually, this also contributes to many neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma.

A total of 125,000 household toilets shall be constructed on self-help basis, government shall educate the people to adopt sanitation practices – those who can afford shall construct toilet on their own with technical support from government. Cost of 70,000 toilets for the poorest factions of the society shall be managed by the department in collaboration with UNICEF.

Government has chosen districts on the basis of Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey 2018which include, Rajanpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Lodhran, Bhakkar, Khushab, Chiniot and Jhang. These villages have Open Defecation Ratio between 20% to 38%. Under this program, 1,775 most vulnerable villages are being covered. These high risk villages, once made Open Defecation free, shall be better able to contribute to over provincial growth and it will help the government to set health department’s priorities straight too.

Mega structures aside, Punjab government must continue to work on these soft reforms because ultimately these initiatives shall contribute in making Punjab a province with healthier smart cities.