To see men urinating unabashedly in public and children dumping their wastes in open is not rare. Even in Kathmandu, the practice, despite sanitary infrastructures, has been a daily sight.
Not surprisingly, therefore, navigating away from the capital, defecating in open and public has been a habit and a common practice.
In order to promote awareness of the health hazards of defecating in open and encourage people to use toilets, the comedian duo, Madan Krishna Shrestha and Haribansha Acharya, popularly known as MaHa, in collaboration with Plan Nepal, has produced a two-part, one-hour series called “Sugandhapur” (City of Good Smells).
“The main objective of this tele-serial is to disseminate the message of hygiene and sanitation, and make people realize that open defecating is dangerous for health,” said Shrestha of MaHa.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that nearly 13,000 Nepali children die every year due to diarrhea-related diseases, and only 45% of Nepal’s population has access to toilets. The Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2006 published by the Central Bureau of Statistics estimates the death at 10,000 and that 10 million people in Nepal defecate openly.
To promote proper sanitation, Plan Nepal, a part of the international organization Plan, is implementing a community-led total sanitation program. And “Sugandhapur” is part of the plan, said Shree Ram KC, development communications officer at Plan Nepal.
He also said that this is a new kind of approach which, though not providing with materials to make toilets, is to “empower the community” by discussions, workshops and other programs.
“It’ll be sustainable only when the community is aware and realize its importance,” KC clarified, adding that the effectiveness of any program is based on education.
And due to lack of awareness or sanitary infrastructure, the health hazards created from open defecating on the community is also an imminent issue.
Dr Arpana Neopane, Associate Professor at the Department of Medicine at the Kathmandu Medical College, while referring to the recent dysentery and diarrhea outbreak in Jajarkot, said this resulted due to poor sanitation in the region, and open defecating contributes to the problem.
“Open toiletry promotes many water-borne diseases which are transmitted by fecal oral route [when fecal particles are transmitted from mouth],” Dr Neopane said.
When sewage and water supply pipes are parallel, the resultant leakage can be catastrophic, Dr Neopane noted. This can make people vulnerable to diseases like jaundice, and Hepatitis A and E. Open defecating can also see a rise in problems related to different types of worms—hookworm being a threat because the parasite enters the human body through the feet and into the blood.
“And one of the immediate effects can be food poisoning,” Dr Neopane added.
KC said that the organization, together with MaHa, is trying to prevent such scenarios, and “Sugandhapur” can help to aid in their efforts.
“Visual presentation is an effective medium,” he said. “And in communities where most people lack education, they can be informed in a humorous, yet effective way.”
Plan Nepal is working, especially in the Tarai region, where open defecation poses as a large problem. The organization has so far built 11,700 toilets that cover 66,000 individuals in places like Sunsari, Morang, Rautahat, Makwanpur, Banke, and Bardiya districts.
Recalling the two-week shooting schedules of “Sugandhapur,” Shrestha hopes that the tele-serial will give the right message to the people.
“People had mills but didn’t have toilets,” he said of the situation in places like Tetariya in Biratnagar, where the tele-serial was filmed.
Elaborating on the plot, he said that it is a story about Hari Lal, played by Acharya, and his intention of not making a toilet because he thinks it will destroy his crops. However, the situation changes after Hari Lal goes through a series of events due to open defecation.
And after seeing the tele-serial, it is believed that people will learn about personal hygiene and collective sanitation and thus cultivate the habit of using toilets.
The two-part series of “Sugandhapur” is scheduled to be broadcast before September.