Staff Reporter 

Local leaders and health workers from 12 gewogs that have now met the open defecation free (ODF) criteria were awarded certificates on the World Toilet Day in Shompangkha gewog, Sarpang yesterday. 

This takes the total number of gewogs with ODF status and 100 percent improved sanitation coverage in the country to 93 gewogs. Two more dzongkhags, Tsirang and Trongsa joined Mongar and Samdrupjongkhar in achieving ODF status in all its gewog this year. 

According to the 2017 Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB), Gasa dzongkhag recorded the lowest proportion of households with improved sanitation facilities at 55.1 percent, followed by Dagana at 59.8 percent.

The theme for this year’s World Toilet Day “Toilets for all,” was a call to leave no one behind as the world strives to achieve universal access to sanitation.

Globally, 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines according to the United Nations. Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases.

The PHCB found that 25 percent of households are without improved sanitation facilities and 77.5 percent of these are in rural communities. A baseline survey for WASH in monastic institutions, 2019, found that 22 percent lack access to improved sanitation only 35 percent of the institutions experienced uninterrupted water supply. The PHCB 2017 reported that 98 percent of households has access to piped drinking water source compared to 54 percent in 1990.

Health ministry’s Public Health Engineering Division, Chief Engineer Rinchen Wangdi said, “These achievements are great inspiration for our health workers and local government leaders to continue their efforts towards making our homes clean and safe.”

“We must continue the good progress we have made towards ensuring that every child and household has access to improved toilets and hygienic practices,” the Deputy Representative a.i of UNICEF Juliette Haenni said. “UNICEF will continue to support the efforts made to enhance access to water and improved sanitation facilities for the children of Bhutan.”

For many years, SNV’s efforts in WASH have been centred on scale, systems change, and governments as the duty bearers for service delivery and development.

“Now with the ever-increasing number of dzongkhags and gewogs with access to improved sanitation coverage annually, there is an urgent need to introduce the ‘safely managed’ services including in schools and health facilities to ensure sustainability in all settings,” Country Representative of SNV Bhutan, Kencho Wangdi said. 

Besides being the leading causes of child mortality and morbidity, poor hygiene, open defecation, and lack of access to safe water and sanitation systems also contribute to undernutrition and stunting and are barriers to children’s education.

Recognising the importance of sanitation and hygiene in reducing the overall disease burden, the health ministry initiated the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (RSAHP) in 2008. The programme is a subsidy free and demand driven community-led approach to total sanitation in rural communities. 

Currently RSAHP is under implementation in Haa and Sarpang districts with support from UNICEF, and in Chukha, Dagana, Punakha and Zhemgang districts with support from SNV under Australia DFAT Water for Women fund. Altogether the programme has now reached 16 dzongkhags. 

Health ministry officials said that the government will continue to work together with UNICEF and SNV, and other partners to ensure that every household in rural communities have access to safe sanitation, health and hygiene, especially for the children.