Younten Tshedup 

By 2022, every household in the country would have access to improve sanitation. Health Minister Dechen Wangmo announced the ambitious target coinciding with the World Toilet Day yesterday.

Lyonpo said that in the next two years, the government commits to achieve open defecation free (ODF) status across the country with access to improved sanitation (pour flush with running water).

She said that as the country prepares to graduate from the group of least developed countries (LDC), it was important to work together to make improved sanitation a reality in Bhutan.

“While we have made great progress, we cannot be complacent. We should continue to spearhead until every household is fully equipped with sustained and safely managed sanitation and hygiene facilities,” Lyonpo said, adding that it was not a far-fetched dream to redefine improved sanitation to include flush-toilet along with provision for separate shower rooms with solar water heaters.

With the theme ‘Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change’, the World Toilet Day this year called for coordination and collaboration among relevant WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) stakeholders in developing innovative interventions to address the climate change impact on sustainable sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Today, half of the entire gewogs including five dzongkhags in the country have achieved ODF status and 100 percent improved sanitation coverage.

All six gewogs in Wangdue, three from Dagana and one from Trashiyangtse were the latest members to join the group this year taking the total number of gewogs with ODF status and 100 per cent improved sanitation to 103.

Among the dzongkhags, Wangdue becomes the fifth dzongkhag after Tsirang, Trongsa, Mongar and Samdrupjongkhar to achieve ODF status in all its gewog, this year.

Wangdue dzongkhag and 10 gewogs, as part of the monitoring system, were awarded certificates of recognition for their efforts yesterday.

Director with the Department of Public Health, Dr Karma Lhazeen, said that while sanitation coverage in general was reported to be significantly high, prevalence of sanitation and hygiene related diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery remained in the top five communicable diseases over the last decade. This she said was mainly due to practice of predominant simple pit toilets.

Recognising the importance of sanitation and hygiene in reducing the overall disease burden, the health ministry introduced the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (RSAHP) in 2008.

RSAHP is a demand driven community-led approach to achieve total sanitation in rural communities. Today, the programme has reached 16 dzongkhags excluding Gasa, Paro, Thimphu and Bumthang.

The director said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that for every one dollar invested in water and toilets, the return is four dollars in saving medical costs and increased productivity. “Washing hands with soap reduces morbidity from diarrheal diseases by almost 44 percent.”

UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr Will Parks said, “Sanitation was a human right and a public good, providing benefits across society in improved health as well as economic and social development.”

He added that the country has made impressive progress in improving sanitation facilities and that UNICEF would continue to support the government in its efforts to ensure that its toilets and sanitation systems are climate-resilient, sustainable and accessible to everyone including children in the country.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that as one of the essential components of improving public health, providing improved sanitation for all was one of the priorities of the government.