Bhutan declared free from open defecation

The last 76 gewogs from 12 dzongkhags were recognized for achieving ODF status and 100 percent improved sanitation

LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu

Coinciding with world toilet day 2022 on 19 November, the Ministry of Health (MoH) declared the country open defecation-free (ODF), applauding the success of the government initiative under which every household now has access to improved sanitation.

This comes following the nationwide coverage of access to improved sanitation facilities with the recognition of the last 76 gewogs from 12 dzongkhags for achieving ODF status and 100 percent improved sanitation.

The latest ODF-certified gewogs are from Bumthang, Chhukha, Gasa, Haa, Paro, Pemagatshel, Punakha, Samtse, Sarpang, Thimphu, Trashigang, and Zhemgang.

Health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that the achievement is a significant milestone in Bhutan’s public health journey.

“Since the start of the rural water supply scheme 48 years ago, Bhutan is now 100 percent ODF, which means all homes and families across the country have access to improved toilets,” she said.

Lyonpo said while the accomplishment was not without challenges, “We persevered because we believed that everyone – anyone anywhere across the country, is entitled to sanitation services that provide privacy, ensure dignity and safety, and that are physically accessible and affordable.”

Health minister during the observation of world toilet day in 2020 pledged to make Bhutan 100 percent ODF with access to improved sanitation by the end of 2022.

At that time, the national ODF and access to improved sanitation coverage was about 50 percent with only 103 gewogs achieving 100 percent.

SNV Bhutan’s Regional Program Manager Gabrielle Halcrow said that there is a shared commitment among the stakeholders to not only sustain but continue to progress towards safely managed sanitation for all.

Commending the leadership and commitment from the villages to the national level, she said, it has made real differences in people’s lives, dignity, and health across rural Bhutan.

A joint press release of the health ministry, SNV Bhutan, and UNICEF Bhutan state that sustained partnerships among government, development partners, and CSOs are critical in reaching the last mile to end open defecation.

UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr. Will Parks said that ending ODF is a celebration of the change in the knowledge, attitude, and practices among the nation’s people on sanitation and the role the humble toilet plays in saving lives.

“While the impacts of becoming an ODF society are visible through the health of people, we must not become complacent with the achievements made thus far,” he said.

“We must put equal effort to sustain and achieve safely managed sanitation which protects our water sources from human waste pollution,” he added. “Our humble beginning and partnership have brought us this far.”

While sustaining the progress, the health ministry and partners will also strengthen the safe management of excreta to ensure the health and well-being of the people.

Calling on the nation to keep the water supply system functional and safely manage excreta, the health minister says, “We must strive towards making every home in Bhutan fully equipped with sustained, climate change resilient and safely managed sanitation facilities with the institutionalized monitoring system.”

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