This summer, while travelling to some of the worst drought affected rural areas of Odisha and Chhattisgarh, I bumped into about three broad scenarios as far as ‘toilet use’ is concerned. First, many villages – especially the remote ones majorly inhabited by indigenous communities – had no toilet at all; second, a few villagers had toilets but most remained unused; and third, where there were a few toilets, only the aged and ailing were using them. Of the approximately 20 villages I visited, I could safely say that 99 per cent of the people practiced open defecation, even though toilets were available for about 10 per cent of the population visited, and a few more were under construction.
The 2014-2016 drought period has had a phenomenal impact on use of toilets in rural areas as these villages have been afflicted with severest of water crises in their lifetime. The world is getting hotter by the day and India’s water resources are declining in a fast pace owing to the growing temperature and related impacts. 2014 was the hottest year in the history of meteorological records, that was broken by 2015 and now with 2016 all set to break that record.
Climate change is to blame for this. Just consider the decrease in water availability of Mahanadi river, India’s sixth largest and lifeline of both the states mentioned in this article and it is clear that mere possession of toilets would not mean that people would use it. The river has deficit in water yield by as huge as 10 per cent in recent decades owing to decreasing monsoon rainfall due to climate change.
In normal times too people don’t use toilets because of lack of water supply. In times of drought, when people have to travel more and spend up to 300 to 400 per cent more time in collecting water – as observed during my study in these villages – people would for sure abandon the toilets. This exactly what they relayed to me.
For toilets to be used, besides many other factors, water security is a must. Or else, we need to invent effective dry toilets, which currently seems to be a distant dream.
– Ranjan Kishor Panda is a known expert on water, sanitation, disasters and climate change in India. Awarded as the first ‘Green Hero’ by NDTV-Toyota in 2010 from the Honorable President of India for his contribution to water issues, he has more than 25 years of experience as a practitioner of sustainable water harvesting and management, researcher and writer. He has also received several other awards and has been felicitated by many organisations starting from grassroots organisations to UN houses. Currently he leads several regional and national advocacy networks on these issues. Two prominent of them are the “Water Initiatives Odisha” and “Combat Climate Change Network.” He has also worked at the international level on water management research and advocacy, has been invited to various foreign countries/institutions including universities to speak on these issues. He contributes to various media publications and is a global award winning photographer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org