Around 75 percent of the rural population has access to improved sanitation

Sanitation: Around 29 health assistants and 21 local leaders from four eastern dzongkhags  received certificates and awards for achieving 100 percent sanitation in their gewogs, during the World Toilet Day celebration held in Gaselo, Wangdue on November 19.

The effort was part of the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (RSAHP), according to the chief engineer with the public health and engineering division of the health ministry, Rinchen Wangdi.

He said health officials and local leaders of 21 gewogs of Mongar, Lhuentse, Samdrupjongkhar and Pemagatshel have immensely contributed in achieving improved sanitation in their community. Some local leaders and health officials even had to provide labour support apart from advocating on the importance of having improved toilets.

Rinchen Wangdi said the World Toilet Day celebration is one such programme, where they try to empower and recognise gewog leaders and health officials who have worked so hard trying to advocate the importance of sanitation. This would have repealed the effect on other local leaders and health officials, and to encourage them.

The gup of Tsakaling gewog, Karma Sonam Wangchuk, said it was not easy to achieve 100 percent improved toilets in a community of more than 300 households. Elderly people, gungtong (empty houses), poor, disabled and single member households were some of the major challenges they faced. “However, we didn’t wait for everyone to construct toilets at one-go, but we encouraged those households who could construct and complete first,” said Karma Sonam. “Later everybody came together and helped construct toilets for those who cannot afford to do so.”

Karma Sonam said it wasn’t just the gewog’s achievement but was the collaborative effort of all including the health ministry, health assistants in the gewog and organisations like SNV and UNICEF.

Rinchen Wangdi said around two thirds of the population in the country at least now have access to improved sanitation toilets. However funding issue is still a challenge. Although Bhutan has an approach of subsidy pre-approach where they focus more on advocating the importance of sanitation and hygiene there are still many people who do not know how to prioritise.

The programme is targeting particularly those in the rural areas, where people are not able to prioritise their wants and means. “Now that we have donors like SNV, UNICEF and the Swiss Red Cross Programme, we are hopeful that in the years to come we will be able to achieve our National target of providing improved sanitation facilities of 80 percent of the population within the 11th Plan or by the end of 2018,” said Rinchen Wangdi.

The ultimate aim is 100 percent sanitation coverage.

More than 70 percent of the population has improved sanitation, he said. One of the positives about RSAHP is that it is carried out without any subsidy.

He said there are issues where there are poor households, disabled and the aged, however, they try to mobilise the community themselves to help those who cannot build toilets for themselves.

“Our aim is also to end open defecation as it has a direct impact on water sources and pollutes water sources,” said Rinchen Wangdi. “We also want to make people realise the impacts of defecation.”

He said not having proper toilets along the highways is another issue, and is a usual complaint the government receives from tourists. However he said they are in dialogue with the Bhutan Toilet Organisation and the Bhutan Tourism Council. “We also have a small forum where all people working with water and sanitation come together and discuss issues,” said Rinchen Wangdi. The Bhutan Toilet Organisation has already started managing some of the toilets along the highway.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk attended the celebration that was jointly organised by Wangdue dzongkhag and the public health engineering division.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue