By Andrea Bruce
In our heavily populated world, poor sanitation contaminates water and food supplies, making it one of the deadliest issues humans face today. In 2015, the United Nations called for an end to open defecation by 2030. India is trying to change that following the steps of countries like Vietnam who desperately want to change the health of their country’s workforce and children.
Photographer Andrea Bruce travelled to India, Vietnam and Haiti to document how communities around the world still suffer or have overcome open defecation.
Today, open defecation is on the decline, but nearly a billion people still practice it daily. More than half of them are in India: nearly half-a-billion Indians – or 48% of the population – lack access to basic sanitation and defecate in the open. Open defecation and lack of access to clean drinking water are the top reasons for child mortality in the world for children under five. Every year, 200,000 children in India die from diseases caused by faecal contamination. Moreover, women appear to bear the brunt as they are mostly attacked and assaulted when they step out early in the morning or late in the evening. Open defecation is also a leading cause of rape for women in India, where women in rural areas seeking a private place to relieve themselves go out into the fields alone very early in the morning or at night.
In 2014, two girls were found hanging from a tree in Katra Sahadatganj. They had gone out to use the field as a toilet; they had been gang-raped and lynched. There was a brief outcry and were articles linking their murders to the lack of toilets. Lack of access to private toilets and clean water also hinder school participation. In India, only 58.82% of schools have separate toilets for girls. Some schools have only a single toilet, which is not clean. Single toilets increase the risk of not only disease transmission, but also sexual harassment. Many girls opt to drop out of school due to the lack of proper toilet facilities. It is especially true in the case of adolescent girls who skip school for five to six days every month, during menstruation. This hampers their education and leads them to drop out of school completely. The school completion rates are just 34% for girls, compared to 49% for boys. Proper sanitation facilities in schools are critical for improving the rate of completion of studies at school for the girls.
When girls drop out of school at an early age, they are less likely to return to education, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, violence and forced sexual relations. “Girls lack access to clean, safe private toilets. There is no clean water within or near the toilets, which means there is nowhere to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual products,” said Plan International USA’s Director of Water, Sanitation and Health, Darren Saywell.