Improper disposal of domestic waste remains a serious issue in South Asia, despite modernisation and availability of consumer products in the region. Around 700 million people defecate in the open, even in this era.
To the astonishment of many urban dwellers, the system of relieving in the open is still part of the culture in rural areas around the federal capital, including villages falling within Islamabad territory.
“There is a tradition of going out in the open as there is no system of having toilets at homes,” said Fida Shah, belonging to the village of Kanghuta Syedan, at the outskirts of Islamabad, whose brother was the first person to build a toilet with outlet in a pit, some ten years back.
“After retiring from army he brought this concept to make a pit filled with lime and almost everybody in the village opposed it, maybe they thought that it would spread diseases in the whole village.”
Shah said that even now many people living in the outskirts of his village are opposed to having washrooms in the home.
Similar trend is visible all across the country and many people with exposure to village life find it difficult to use modern toilets.
“Still many of our guests find toilets too suffocating and bathrooms too small to take a bath as they are used to bathing in tube wells or traditional wells,” said Chaudhry Bashir Sahi, who originally belongs to Gujrat district, but has been living in rural Islamabad for a long time.
“Some villagers, especially aged people oppose establishing pits for disposal of toilet waste as they consider it is extremely unholy and to some extent satanic,” Chaudhry Bashir Sahi said, “Senior citizens say that it was like storing the human faeces in the house.”
Apart from the issue of traditional mindset, the main problem is also lack of infrastructure not only in the country but the whole of South Asia is facing a serious challenge to providing potable drinking water and proper sanitation to its citizens.
A recently launched Media Scrapbook, which is a collection of published reports from across South Asia, related to water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash), has highlighted that, “Routine defecation in the open is a compromise on the dignity of the people who have no access to decent facilities,” the Scrapbook by WashMedia, said.
The Scrapbook highlighted that due to lack of infrastructure in many rural areas and urban slum dwellers across South Asia, there are serious issues related to water and sanitation sector, water quality, pollution, right to access to safe drinking water, conditions of water in floods and other disasters.
Abdul Hafeez, Advocacy manager, WaterAid Pakistan, said that the purpose of launching the Scrapbook was to highlight the importance of water and sanitation issues among policymakers and media persons.
As wash conditions in Pakistan cause serious sanitation issues leading to spread of communicable disease, which accounts to economic loss worth around 3.9 per cent of GDP.
Dr Abid Suleri, Executive Director SDPI, said that the government figures states that around 50 per cent of the Pakistanis are not getting safe drinking water.
“But the more serious issue is lack of awareness,” Dr Suleri said, “Even those citizens who have access to safe drinking water or filter plants could be drinking polluted water due to improper habits like not washing hands and vessels properly.”
Since lack of awareness is a rampant problem among a vast section of the society, infections borne by un-cleanliness are seldom taken seriously.
Scientifically speaking, a stool can contain more than 50 different kinds of bacteria that normally live in the intestines and causes infections and diseases.
“Common diseases are various forms of intestinal infections causing diarrhea, typhoid and hepatitis A and B,” said Dr Suleman Otho, a public health expert based in Karachi, “But the most serious problem related to fecal-oral transmission is polio.”
He said that Pakistan is among the only three countries in the world where polio has yet to be eradicated, other ones are Nigeria and Afghanistan, sanitation problems must be there too.
“Awareness related to sanitation is needed to contain the spread of such dangerous and highly contagious diseases like polio,” Dr Suleman Otho added.
Though, it seems to be a gigantic task to control the open air defecation in the country or in South Asia, however, the local authorities in Islamabad have taken up the task to create awareness among some 800,000 residents of rural areas.
“We already started a campaign in all the rural areas including Bari Imam, Rawat, Sihala, Tarlai, Bara Kahu etc.” said Deputy Commissioner Islamabad, Amer Ali, “We have completed the Bari Imam area by establishing soakage pits as per the standards prescribed by EPA.
This will encourage the residents of surrounding areas too to dispose off waste carefully in a hygienic manner.”
However, due to the apathy of Finance Ministry, an approved solid waste and sanitation project of the ICT is lying in papers for two years.
Under Rs15 million, a proper solid waste management project could be established in rural areas of Islamabad.
Mr Ali highlighted that the ICT has also made arrangements in cooperation with the locals, so that raw sewage is not disposed into the natural streams of the capital.