With rapid urbanisation, the need to address urban sanitation adequately is increasingly becoming urgent.

As yet, there is no national policy to provide clear direction for sector and government to address such issues.

It has been estimated that by 2020, around half the country’s population will live in urban areas. With the declaration of 16 new Dzongkhag Thromdes and 20 Yenlag Thromdes, urban sanitation problems is expected to grow.

Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) and Ministry of Health endorsed a draft Sanitation and Hygiene Policy on October 23.

According to the draft policy the need arose primarily because of increasing demand for better infrastructure and services. The draft policy is currently with the Gross National Happiness Commission for review.

The policy is based on the recommendations made by the Review of Policy, Legal and Institutional Arrangements for Urban Sanitation and Hygiene in Bhutan 2012” and the draft Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Policy 2012

The policy will guide all private and government, Institutions, hospitality industry, civil society organisations (CSOs), bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies associated in the sanitation and hygiene sector.

This policy, which will cover sanitation and hygiene of all areas in Bhutan, including schools, institutions and public places, is expected to end open defecation and pay special attention to the needs of women and girls and other vulnerable groups.

Although Bhutan has achieved impressive 71 percent sanitation coverage, there is a need to further improve the situation. Today, 32 percent of poorest households has improved its access to sanitation, which is three times less compared with the richest households.

A study also found that safe disposal of child faeces in rural areas is still low.

According to the draft policy, persons with disabilities still face multiple systemic factors plus deep-rooted discrimination preventing access to adequate sanitation and hygiene. “Persons with Disabilities from poorer households faced greater challenges in terms of access to a safe toilet and hand washing facility. Although, all schools in the country have one toilet, 11 percent still do not have access to improved sanitation and about 20 percent do not have functional toilets.”

Sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities (HCFs) report 2016 states that 41.48 percent of the 28 hospitals surveyed reported E.coli or faecal contamination. Some toilets were found to be dysfunctional.

The draft policy is expected to help achieve universal coverage and access to safe sanitation and hygiene services for healthy, happy and productive society.

“This policy is also critical to realising the human right of access to safe drinking water and sanitation anchored in Gross National Happiness principles and values,” says the draft policy. “The policy shall specify the need for clear responsibility and commitment for implementation of sanitation and hygiene programmes.”

The draft policy is also expected to ensure that all dzongkhags and Thromdes are open defecation free with particular emphasis on roadside amenities. It will also explore and adopt appropriate treatment systems that are locally appropriate and affordable, cost efficient, disaster resilient, environment friendly, and sustainable.

According to the draft policy, the government should establish a high-level committee from health ministry and works and human settlement ministry for sanitation and hygiene as the apex body for decision-making, overall guidance, and monitoring related to sanitation and hygiene in the country.

It has been noted that the current practice of high investment in sanitation infrastructure development by the government and donor agencies is not sustainable. “The majority of funds allocated are for infrastructure development with only a small portion allocated for education and advocacy to promote behavior change for safe use and sustainability. Currently, the sector is faced with no active private sector and community participation, and limited CSO engagement.”

The draft policy says that the government shall explore innovative financing options relevant to the local context.

Yangchen C Rinzin