Fifteen gewogs from five dzongkhags were recognised for achieving the status of open defecation free and 100 percent improved sanitation coverage during the World Toilet Day in Trongsa yesterday.

Bartsham, Yangnyer, Lumang, and Kangpara gewogs from Trashigang, Silambi, Gongdu, and Dremetsi gewogs from Mongar, Langchenphu, Martsala, Deothang, and Samrang gewogs from Samdrupjongkhar, Gasetshogom, Gasetshowom, and Athang gewogs from Wangdue, and Menbi gewog from Lhuentse received certificates of achievement from the Finance Minister Namgay Dorji and UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Rudolf Schwenk.

Mongar is the first dzongkhag in the country to achieve open defecation free status and 100 percent improved sanitation coverage.

Recognising the importance of sanitation and hygiene in reducing the overall disease burden, the Ministry of Health initiated the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (RSAHP) in 2008. The programme has been successfully completed in Lhuentse, Pemagatshel, Mongar, and Samdrupjongkhar.

RSAHP covered 24 gewogs, and with the 15 additional gewogs, a total of 39 gewogs have now achieved open defecation free status and 100 percent improved sanitation coverage. Improved sanitation coverage for rural households in the country is 79 percent.

Rudolf Schwenk said that currently UNICEF is collaborating with the Public Health Engineering Division of Ministry of Health and Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) to implement RSAHP in Trongsa, Wangdue and Tsirang. “Together we have completed the programme in Mongar and Samdrupjongkhar with excellent results, taking improved sanitation coverage in the two districts from only 25 percent to more than 95 percent.”

RSAHP is being implemented in Samtse and Trashigang with support from SNV, and in Trashiyangtse with support from SWISS Red Cross.

According to the United Nations, 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to decent sanitation and more than a billion people are forced to defecate in the open, risking diseases and other dangers.

Improved sanitation is expected to lower the odds of children suffering from diarrhoea from 17 percent to  seven percent, and under-five mortality from 20 percent to five percent.

Chapsang Chag Tshe Lo – a report documenting the best practices of Rural Sanitation and Hygiene was also launched.

Karma Cheki