Church agencies help end open defecation in Kerala
The state is set to be the second in India to end the practice
Local Catholic priest addressing a function in which the Vaikom block of Ernakulam district in Kerala was declared free of open defecation. (Photo supplied)
Church groups in Kerala have joined hands with the Communist-led government to make the south Indian state free from open defecation.
The state government, as part of a a federal campaign for a cleaner nation, hopes to eliminate open defecation by the end of October 2016. If Kerala succeeds, it will become the second state in India to achieve this distinction after the northeastern state of Sikkim.
About 50,000 self-help groups and social service organizations under 33 Catholic dioceses in the state are working with the government. Their "work has immensely helped the campaign," said K. Vasuki, head of the Suchithwa (cleanliness) Mission, the government agency coordinating the campaign.
Only 3 percent of houses in Kerala are without toilets, most of them in hills or in coastal areas. "Some others simply did not want toilets at all," she said, adding that despite being told about the health hazards of open defecation "people were not convinced."
Vasuki said church agencies and parishes played "a big role" both in facilitating the construction of toilets in such areas and changing the mindset of people who were against the idea of owning a toilet.
"We found the Catholic Church most effective in communicating to the people. The priests in most parishes in the coastal areas identified houses without toilets and ensured their support to build them," she said.
R. S. Ameershah, program officer in charge of the coastal districts of Alappuzha and Ernakulum said Catholic parishes made land available and provided material and human resources to build communal toilets.
Father George Vettikkattil, executive director of Kerala Social Service Forum, said self-help groups created awareness about the need to end the practice.
"We do not think our job is over with the construction of toilets. We will continue awareness programs to make sure that people use the toilets," he said.
According to Vasuki, the program is in its final stages. About 90 percent of the 190,000 toilets needed to achieve "open defecation free status" have been constructed. Six of the 14 districts have already declared an end to open defecation.
The government plans to declare the entire state free of open defecation on Nov. 1, when the state celebrates 61 years since it was formed.
The state has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make the formal declaration. Modi launched the national campaign on Oct. 2, 2014, four months after he came to power. He wanted to clean India’s streets, roads, infrastructure and put a stop to open defecation.
The national campaign aims to eliminate open defecation by Oct. 2, 2019, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the Indian nation. According to UNICEF, around 564 million people, nearly half India’s population, defecate in the open.
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