Interview: Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene

MUMBAI: V.Ganapathy is former Special Correspondent for The Hindu newspaper and now an Advisor to the Friend In Need Trust. We wanted to know why he attended the Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene, why these issues are important for India and other developing countries, and what he thought were the highlights of the conference. Read on below for his impressions and insights.

1) What were you personally involved in ?
As a journalist I was keenly interested in sustainable sanitation practices to keep the environment clean and healthy. The problems created by accumulation of bio-degradable and non bio-degradable waste are mounting everyday due to changes in lifestyle and increased consumerism. I was associated with SWM for over a decade and one of its main concerns was disposal of napkins. Hence I am now involved in safe and hygienic disposal of sanitary napkins in my capacity of an Executive Committee Member of the Menstrual Hygiene Management consortium of Tamil Nadu.

2) Why is this work important in India and elsewhere?
Several studies conducted in India have revealed that MHM (Menstrual Hygiene Management) related diseases were high and often it resulted in a high rate of dropouts of girl students in schools during their adolescent period. The Government of India and the Government of Tamil Nadu have recently launched programs for free supply of Sanitary napkins to lakhs of students in schools to promote MHM. Without proper hygienic and environmentally friendly disposal of Sanitary napkins this program would have disastrous impact on health and hygiene. At present only about 30% of the women in India use sanitary napkins and they are concentrated mostly in urban areas. The Government program is focussing on free sanitary napkins in rural areas. Hence I thought that in rural areas people should be also made aware of safe and hygienic disposal of sanitary napkins to prevent any disastrous impact on the environment when the program is fully implemented.

3) What in your opinion were the highlights of the conference?
It is unacceptable that 2.6 billion people in the world are without toilets and are unable to fulfil their daily needs with safety, convenience and dignity. Recent analysis of programs towards the Millennium Development Goals has revealed that the world will miss the sanitation MDG target by more than 500 million people primarily in Africa, Southern Asia and Eastern Asia. The WSSCC(The Water Supply Sanitation Collaborative Council) organized the conference for sharing, learning, strategizing and accelerating the 21st century’s sanitation and hygiene issues. The conference helped the participants in understanding the need for location specific regional approach for changing the mindset of the people who were not having toilets to demand toilets. Though funding is not a major problem globally for the Sanitation sector in reality it was found that enough money was not available for taking all out efforts and suitable IEC(Information,Education & Communication) programs to shift sanitation from a target oriented supply driven program to a demand driven program. The need for a variety of models of toilets to suit different countries and communities as per their traditions and cultural practices was better understood. The experiences shared will result in a change in the focus to make world an open defecation free world.
For the first time MHM was given a high priority sector in the programs for improving sanitation and also ensure that women who constitute 50% of the global population could lead a dignified and healthy life by better MHM practices.