'The toilets of railway contribute to a major chunk of open defecation as shit is thrown on the tracks,' a UNICEF representative said and urged the government to take urgent steps to change the system to a more hygienic practice. This was necessary as 80 per cent of diseases occur due to lack of water and sanitation. Globally 5000 child under five die due to diarrhoeal diseases and in India 1000 such deaths occur per day. Moreover, 443 million school days are lost each year due to poor hygiene and sanitation, according to UNICEF.
India, which has the largest number of 665 million people practicing open defecation, also needed to take steps to reduce the social discrimination being faced by scavangers most of who live in segregated rural colonies and unable to make use of the community resources.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be taking pride in the industrial and social development of the state and its progress in having Nirmal Gram Puruskar villages, but according to UNICEF the discrimination against scavangers was rampant in the state.
''When we are working they ask us not to come near them. At tea canteens, they have separate tea tumblers and they make us clean them ourselves and make us put the dishes away ourselves.
We cannot enter temples. We cannot use upper caste water taps. We have to go one kilometer away to get water,'' a scavenger in Ahmedabad district was quoted by Ms Lizette Burgers, Chief of Child Environment Programme at UNICEF.
However, the efforts of Sulabh International in the sanitation programme were lauded by UNICEF which said taking rehabilitated manual scavenger for a ramp show at the United Nations by the NGO was a major step towards providing dignity to these women. Many of these women reported that the attitude of the people changed towards them after the event.
UNICEF, which is supporting the Total Sanitation Campaign of the Government and its effort to achieve Millennium Development Goals, pointed out open defecation also leads to methane and carbon dioxide generation which leads to global warming. In view of the evidence that hand washing by soaps could reduce diarrhoeal morbidity by 44 per cent, UNICEF is launching a Global Campaign on Handwashing from October 15 and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar would be amabassador for it encouraging children to inculcate the healthy habit of handwashing.