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Reaching the unreached: more from Sacosan V

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There was a very appealing session in the SACOSAN V about equity and inclusion: ‘Reaching the unreached’, indeed very adequate for the conference’s motto "Sanitation for All: All for Sanitation".

The first presentation, by Esmaeil Ibrahim (UNICEF), dealt with sanitation and polio in Afghanistan. The mountain and border areas of the country host many children unreached by polio vaccinations, due to remoteness, violence and population movements. These areas generally have low sanitation coverage, factor that reinforces the exclusion from polio vaccination, as diarrhoea can result in dose excretion before immunization.

Afterwards, Siddhartha Das (FANSA) presented recommendations for targeting vulnerable groups, based on a study of key barriers and best practices in 5 countries. The groups analysed included people living in water-logged areas in Bangladesh and in plantations in Sri Lanka, elderly people in Nepal, people with disabilities in Pakistan and school children with disabilities in India. Have a look at the recommendations in FANSA’s publication!

But without any doubt, the third presentation was the most powerful one. Nepalese disability activist and wheelchair user Amrita Gyawali recounted her personal experience. She emphasized that sanitation is a right and a private matter and that she wants to do it on her own, not with help. She is continuously challenged by the lack of sanitation facilities that are friendly to people with disabilities, and has had problems for these reasons since childhood, up to the point that she stopped attending her lessons at school and at college for long periods.  Moreover, when going out with friends, she controls how much she eats or drinks so that she does not need to go to the toilet. Being a woman makes it even more difficult; during menstruation, for instance, she stops going out because she knows there won’t be any accessible facility for changing her pads.

All these situations made her feel unhappy for many years and still affect her on a daily basis... but now she knows that the problem is not in her, but in the infrastructure. Actually, none of the public toilets in Kathmandu is disability friendly, despite the fact that 2% of the population in Nepal has some kind of disability. People in rural areas have it even more difficult as toilets are generally constructed at a certain distance to the households, increasing the accessibility barriers.

She also showed this short video, recording her experience and that of other people in Kathmandu/

As said, the presentation touched all the participants, as many pointed out during the discussion. It was also an eye-opener for me, or maybe I should rather say it was a ‘heart-opener’; I had read several documents about sanitation and disabilities and ‘knew’ about the challenges people with disabilities where facing... but thanks to Amrita I was ‘feeling’ these problems for the first time. And I must say that the issue acquires a new dimension when you engage with it through the emotions and not only rationally. At least, it has changed my perspective in terms of the importance and urgency of making sanitation truly “for all”.

Date: 5 November 2013