Almost a decade since the health ministry began a rural sanitation and hygiene programme to achieve 100 percent improved sanitation, every household of 80 gewogs in 10 dzongkhags today have a flush toilet.

At least 41 gewogs in nine dzongkhags were recognized to have achieved the status of ‘Open Defecation Free’ yesterday in Tsirang as the health ministry observed the World Toilet Day.

The World Toilet Day this year is themed “When Nature Call, Take Action”.

Samdrupjongkhar and Mongar achieved 100 percent improved sanitation coverage, meaning each and every house in these two dzongkhags has an improved flush toilet.

The other 39 gewogs from eight dzongkhags achieving 100 percent improved sanitation are Tsirang, Samtse, Wangdue Phodrang, Trongsa, Pemagatshel, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse and Lhuntse.

While gewogs in other dzongkhags achieved the status in two to three years, nine gewogs in Tsirang achieved the target within a year.

Health secretary, Dr Ugen Dophu, said that 41 gewogs achieved 100 percent toilet coverage this year with no material subsidy from the government.

He, however, said that at least 60 percent of the people in Bhutan do not still have proper sanitation facility.

Until 2008, the ministry encouraged people to construct deep (6ft) pit latrines. It was found that people construct it but never used it and continued open defecation. So the ministry began the rural improved sanitation programme whereby ‘hygienic toilet’ was recognized.

“Toilet must be built and more importantly it must be used hygienical,” he said.  “Going by the ministry’s record, sanitation and waterborne disease amount to more than 30 percent of the overall disease.”

Yesterday two critical documents, ‘Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP)’ study on hand washing among school children and KAP study on menstrual hygiene management in school and nunneries were released.

The chief engineer of public health engineering division, Rinchen Wangdi, said that to construct toilet is on the output level and the ministry is now monitoring on the outcomes of constructing toilets.

He said that most of the gewogs in the east where toilet construction has been achieved have reported a reduction in diarrheal disease.

He added that the ministry is now putting in place some monitoring system to not just monitor the number of toilets being constructed but monitor trends in diseases. “Ultimately our aim is to reduce WASH-related disease,” he said.

The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017, shows that at least two percent of households across the country do not have a toilet facility. This scenario is more prominent in rural (3 percent) than in urban areas (0.4 percent).

Across the country, 3,325 households reported that they use bush, open field or no toilet to relieve themselves.

Health ministry, Rinchen Wangdi said, will continue advocating to make sure the local leaders support the community in achieving 100 percent sanitation in the remaining gewogs in the 12th Plan. “We’ll go beyond 12th Plan until all households in every gewog has a hygienic toilet,” he said.

Rural sanitation and hygiene programme in the districts is being carried out with support from UNICEF and SNV under Australia DFAT CS WASH fund.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang