Nima Wangdi

With access to improved sanitation facilities nationwide, Bhutan is now declared an Open Defecation Free (ODF) country.

World Health Organisation (WHO) defines open defecation as the practice of defecating in fields, forests, bushes, water bodies, or other open spaces.

The elimination of open defecation is recognised as a top priority for improving the health, nutrition, and productivity of developing country populations and is explicitly mentioned in SDG target 6.2.

According to the press release from Health Ministry, a total of 76 gewogs from 12 dzongkhags of Bumthang, Chukha, Gasa, Haa, Paro, Pemagatshel, Punakha, Samtse, Sarpang, Thimphu, Trashigang, and Zhemgang achieved 100 percent ODF this year on the World Toilet Day November 19. “Bhutan’s ODF coverage is now 100 per cent.”

Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that it is an important achievement in Bhutan’s public health. “This means all the homes in the country now have improved toilets.”

SNV Bhutan’s Regional Programme Manager Gabrielle Halcrow said that with the support of Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Program partners including local CSOs such as Ability Bhutan and Bhutan Network for Empowering Women, there is a shared commitment to not only sustain but continue to progress towards safely-managed sanitation for all.

“For SNV, it was a privilege to partner with the ministry to develop and scale up approaches to improving rural sanitation and hygiene since the first pilot activities in 2008 to what is now a national programme collectively celebrating ending open defecation,” Gabrielle Halcrow said.

“We commend the government for the leadership and commitment – from the villages to the national level, that has progressively realised the human right to sanitation and hygiene across rural Bhutan,” he said.

He said that Bhutan Toilet Organisation’s SATO technology also made upgrading sanitation facilities affordable and convenient.

UNICEF Bhutan’s Representative Dr Will Parks said that ending open defecation is a celebration of the change in the knowledge, attitude, and practices among the nation’s people on sanitation and the role the humble toilet plays in saving lives.

“Today, we also celebrate the collective power of enduring partnership. For it was this partnership with the government, forged 48 years ago, to connect homes with the health ministry’s Rural Water Supply Scheme, that contributed towards improving sanitation in rural Bhutan,” he said.

He said, “While the impacts of becoming an open defecation-free society are visible through the health of people, we must not become complacent with the achievements made thus far. Together, we can do more.”

According to the Joint Press release from UNICEF Bhutan and the health ministry, while sustaining the progress, the health ministry and partners will also strengthen the safe management of excreta to ensure the health and wellbeing of the people.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that all must strive towards making every home fully equipped with sustained, climate change resilient, and safely-managed sanitation facilities with an institutionalised monitoring system.

Going by the WHO global statements, open defecation rates have been decreasing steadily. From 2000-2020, the number of people practising open defecation declined from 1,229 million to 494 million, an average decrease of 37 million people per year.