KATHMANDU, Feb 13
Dinesh Mali´s home is only a few minutes of walk westward from the Malangwa Municipality Office. Thirty-five-year old Mali works as a cleaner at the municipality office. But the neighborhood he lives in is anything but clean.
Children roam bare-feet and people defecate in the open not very far from the human settlement.
“Not a single home in our locality has a toilet for the simple reason that we can´t afford one,” says Mali. He earns Rs 10,000 per month that is barely enough to feed his family of eight, making construction of a toilet the least priority for the family.
A single hand pump, situated close to the area where people openly defecate is the only source of drinking water for around 70 households that populate the settlement.
“Even we hate to live like this, but we lack the financial wherewithal to improve things around here,” says Mali.
Members of Dalit communities defecating in the open is a common sight in Sarlahi´s district headquarter Malangwa, admits the municipality´s Executive Officer Shambhu Thakur. “They only want money and they are refuse to pay heed to any effort to make them aware,” he claimed.
In this recently taken photo, a child from a Madhesi Dalit community heading toward an open defecating area adjoined with the locality in Sarlahi district headquarters Malangawa. Not even a single family among the 70 households residing in the settlement has a toilet. (Nirjana Sharma/republica)
However, figures show a pathetic condition of the marginalized community, who remain untouched by any efforts of improvement. The total population of Dalits in the country stands at 11.8 percent, out of which 36.7 percent are Madhesi Dalits, according to the National Census Report-2011. The Human Development Index for them is lowest in the country with 0.3 percent. Likewise, only 1 percent of the people of this community own fertile lands, whereas around 45 percent are landless.
The number of people using toilet is worse in the Tarai region with only 49 percent using such facility, as per the census report.
The water and sanitation coverage in the hilly region climbed up to 87.14 percent, a 12 percent rise between 2011 and 2014. But the Tarai region made a slow progress with just 7 percent improvement in coverage. Similarly, access to water and sanitation in Tarai grew to 56.9 percent during the same period.
Sixteen of the 20 Tarai districts are behind the national average in terms of sanitation facilities. Among the 10 districts with poorest coverage, eight are the districts of Central and Eastern Development Regions. The districts such as Saptari, Bara, Sirha, Sarlahi, Mohattari, Rautahat, Dhanusha and Parsa are the district showing poor signs of improvement.
The top ten districts that have shown significant improvement are from the hills. Surkhet, Kathmandu, Ilam, Rukum, Bajura, Jajarkot, Arghakhanchi, Syangja, Jumla and Lamjung are the top 10 performers.
Contrary to the drinking water facility, which has uniform coverage of 70 percent across all social groups, sanitation coverage shows drastic variations based on ethnicity. The census report reveals that the Newar community is at the top in terms of sanitation at 71.6 percent, whereas the Madhesi Dalits are at the lowest end of the table with only 4.6 percent.
Better policies needed
Though the government earlier provided subsidies to the poor to build toilets, it later adopted public-private partnership model to develop a sense of ownership among people.
At the initiation of local authorities, some districts in the hills have also decided to deny people government facilities until they build a toilet at home.
Officials claim that the government has collaborated with the non-government organizations for public housing program in the Tarai region, which also ensures that all those homeless people will have access to basic water and sanitation facilities.
“We discarded the subsidy program realizing that only a limited number of deprived groups are under extreme poverty and are unable to build a toilet,” said Kabindra Bikram Karki, assistant spokesperson at the Ministry of Urban Development.
CA member Dhanu Mahar, who represents Madhesi Dalit community, complains that the government policy has failed to uplift their status. She stresses that the government should ensure employments for Madhesi youths. Likewise, free health and education services would ease their financial burden and help them rise from poverty, ultimately improving the access to drinking water and hygiene.