A new drive was rolled out on Thursday in which 100 toilets in schools and anganwadis (rural child health centres) in four Indian states will be made usable in a bid to woo students, especially girls who drop out due to lack of proper toilets.
The initiative has been undertaken by leading global hygiene product maker Kimberley-Clark which has joined hands with Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) India for the project in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra.
The initiative, "Toilets Change Lives", aims to improve sanitation standards in India and also to strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious Swachh Bharat Campaign.
According to Achal Agarwal, president Kimberley-Clark, Asia-Pacific region, "Sanitation is inherently linked to the nature of our business and in response to global sanitation crisis, we developed multi-country program 'Toilets Change Lives' to provide access to sanitation" across Latin America, Africa and India.
"In India, since much progress is being made by Swachh Bharat Campaign in building new toilets, we decided to address the lacuna of dysfunctional or unusable toilets," Agarwal told this correspondent.
She said the focus will be on school toilets as it impacts attendance of children and quality of education apart from affecting their families.
With 600 million people having no access to toilets, India's open-defecation problem needs political will, bureaucratic commitment and corporate support. Studies have shown that dysfunctional, unusable or even missing toilets have impacted students and their attendance in schools.
Lack of toilets in schools where millions of children spend most of their time during the day paints a sorry picture of the hygiene standards. Studies show that four out of 10 schools run without usable toilets in India.
India also has the dubious distinction of having highest number of children dying due to diarrhoea. What is worse is that 23 percent of girls drop out from school after attaining puberty.
Studies show that the girl drop-out rate can be brought down to 11 percent by just building clean toilets in schools.
Meenakshi Batra, chief executive of CAF India, told IANS the "maintenance of toilets and generating awareness among students, parents, community representatives and teachers are equally important components which will help in long term sustainability of the programme".
CAF India is a member of CAF Global Alliance with a network spanning 100 countries. Its mission is to promote and support strategic giving for a more equitable and sustainable society
She said Kimberley Clark's effort was laudable and such initiatives highlight how socially responsible organisations are willing to go the extra mile to address gaps in the sanitation infrastructure.
Providing clean and efficient toilets in schools across India is a mammoth task considering the sheer numbers involved and "Toilets Change Lives" is just a small step in the direction of turning around the situation.
Under this initiative, simple things like fixing a door latch for privacy, attaching soap dispensers in wash basins or replacing broken commodes to more fundamental interventions like paving the floor to prevent slips and falls, changing the water pipes that bring the water to the basins, removing water clogging, repairing flushing systems or regular cleaning of septic tanks will be undertaken.
The global hygiene product maker took the first step in building toilets in 2014 when it constructed household toilets in Karjat, Maharashtra.
It is also a co-founder and key member of the Toilet Board Coalition, which is working towards building a self-sustaining demand-based sanitation model in Odisha in partnership with sanitation social entrepreneurs E-Kutir and Svadha.
(Kavita Bajeli-Datt is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)