Sujit Kumar Mishra
esides shelters to protect oneself from physical threats and natural occurrences, adequate access to clean fuel, electricity, clean drin king water and sanitation are essentials for public health. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)–4 studied the status of Odisha on these parameters.
The survey points to inadequate access or inaccessibility to clean fuel for cooking. Only 19.2 per cent of households in Odisha use clean fuel to cook. The availability is lower in rural areas, where the figure is 10.7 per cent compared with 60.8 per cent in urban areas. This indicates that the percentage of households using solid fuel such as wood, grass and dung cakes for cooking is high in Odisha at 79.6 per cent (34.4 per cent in urban areas and 88.8 per cent in rural reaches). Around 71.7 per cent of households in rural Odisha use wood for cooking. They burn wood in inefficient, simple stoves and in poorly ventilated conditions. This causes irritation of the eyes, shortness of breath, cough and dizziness. Women and children are the main victims of such a situation.
All districts are vulnerable to this. Malkangiri (5.6 per cent; Rural 3.9 per cent); Kandhamal (6.4 per cent; Rural 4.6 per cent), Kalahandi (7.1 per cent; Rural 3.2 per cent); Debagarh (7.4 per cent; Rural 4.9 per cent), Nuapada (8.7 per cent; Rural 5.8 per cent), Bolangir (9.2 per cent; Rural 5 per cent), Nabarangapur (9.2 per cent; Rural 5.2 per cent) and Mayurbhanj (9.5 per cent; Rural 5.5 per cent) have less than 10 per cent of households using clean fuel for cooking. The percentage of households with clean fuel for cooking across the 30 districts is far below the national average of 43.8 per cent.
Universal access to electricity and standard of living move parallel to each other in the same direction. According to NFHS-4, Odisha fares well on this count with about 85.5 per cent (83.8 per cent households in rural areas) of homes electrified. Districts such as Kalahandi (67.1 per cent), Nabarangpur (69 per cent), and Mayurbhanj (73.9 per cent) are the least performing districts on this count.
The two very important indicators of decent public health are clean drinking water and proper sanitation. The lack of these in any aspect — proper supply, cleanliness, and improved sanitation facilities — impose monetary burden in terms of illnesses. The impact is more severe on people from lower strata of income. According to NFHS-4, the overall situation of households with access to improved drinking-water source seems much better in Odisha (88.8 per cent households whereas the same for India is 89.9 per cent). But district-wise statistics are not impressive, as 15 districts have lower than state average in sanitation and drinking water coverage.
Dhenkanal (58.8 per cent; Rural 55 per cent), Kandhamal (61.4 per cent; Rural 59.6 per cent), Gajapati (69.2 per cent; Rural 64.7 per cent) and Angul (77.2 per cent; Rural 73.7 per cent) are the worst performing districts in this context.
As a result of unavailability of water, people are spending considerable time on fetching water. About 11.3 per cent of households consume more than 30 minutes to fetch water. Women often spend 4–5 hours to fetch water during peak summer. Even children are often involved in fetching drinking water in most rural areas, indicating that the situation is worse in these districts. Only 9.6 per cent of households (4.9 per cent in rural area) has access to piped water at their dwellings. For urban households, the figure is 32.6 per cent. About 79.3 per cent of households do not treat the water they drink before consumption.
Things are dismal on the sanitation front as well. 65 per cent of households still have no latrine. They defecate in the open. Open defecation is much more common among rural households (72.4 per cent) than urban households (28.3 per cent). The situation is worse in mining districts such as Sundargarh. Women of these areas do not consider open defecation safe. Many houses lack toilets. Some have toilets but these are dysfunctional. In many cases, a single toilet in a house has several users. Therefore, women do not get the chance to use the toilet in time. Many socio-cultural issues compel them to opt for open defecation. They use toilets either very early in the morning or in the evening in a group. If they miss going in the group, they ask others to escort them to relieve themselves.
They generally go to forests nearby to defecate. But by doing so they are exposed to attack often by drivers who operate mining trucks. Cases of molestation, rape and even murder have been reported from these areas.
Only 29.4 per cent of households have access to improved sanitation facilities, such as connections to piped sewers, flushing systems and septic pits. Almost all districts are vulnerable to the problem. Districts with under 20 per cent of households having improved sanitation facilities are Bolangir (14.1 per cent; Rural 10.8 per cent), Kalahandi (14.9 per cent; Rural 10.5 per cent), Subarnapur (16 per cent; Rural 14.1 per cent), Nabarangapur (16.1 per cent; Rural 13.9 per cent), Boudh (16.4 per cent; Rural 15.5 per cent), Kandhamal (16.5 per cent; Rural 14.8 per cent), Malkangiri (16.7 per cent; Rural 16.1 per cent), Mayurbhanj (18.1 per cent; Rural 14.8 per cent) and Koraput (18.2 per cent; Rural 13.2 per cent). The percentage of households with improved sanitation facility in their houses among all the 30 districts of Odisha is far below national average of 48.4 per cent.
Odisha ranks among states that have performed well on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, this performance needs to be seen holistically. Large regional disparity is noticeable in terms of performance on the same indicators, especially in aspirational districts. These districts need special attention from the government.
The writer is professor of economics, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad.