Access to functioning sanitation is critical for maintaining a healthy population and increasing lifespans worldwide. Countries facing sanitation challenges are more susceptible to health challenges, and Bhutan is no different. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Bhutan.
10 Facts About Sanitation in Bhutan
- The Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes sanitation as a right, and its constitution obliges it to provide a safe and healthy environment for its citizens. However, only 71 percent of people in Bhutan had access to improved sanitation as of 2016 according to a government report. The report also notes that safety management is necessary to maintain basic sanitation even in these areas. UNICEF reports that 63 percent of the population has access to basic sanitation facilities.
- Many girls in Bhutan miss school due to hygiene and sanitation concerns. A recent study reported that around 44 percent of adolescent girls missed school and other activities due to menstruation. They listed a lack of clean toilets and water as one of the primary reasons.
- Bhutan has a WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) program to increase access to sanitation in schools. By working with UNICEF, Bhutan was able to provide 200 schools with improved sanitation as of an evaluation in 2014. During this evaluation, 90.8 percent of respondents surveyed reported that the program improved students’ health.
- As of 2016, all schools in Bhutan had at least one toilet. However, 20 percent of schools did not have working toilets, and 11 percent did not have access to improved sanitation. Furthermore, only about one-third of schools had toilets specifically for girls.
- Monastic institutions in Bhutan frequently do not have basic sanitation facilities. About 65 percent lack water supply, while 34 percent do not have proper sanitation. This leads to skin infections, worm infestations and other health issues in monasteries and nunneries.
- The most common type of sewage treatment in urban Bhutan are septic tanks that discharge into the environment with no treatment or containment. All urban landfills in Bhutan are used as open dumps and are not sanitary landfills capable of containing and treating solid waste. In rural areas, pit toilets are the most common.
- Twenty-four sub-districts in Bhutan have access to 100 percent improved sanitation. These sub-districts are located within nine of Bhutan’s 20 districts. A health assistant in Mongar district said that, with 100 percent improved sanitation, the number of cases of diarrhea is falling.
- Many people need to be treated for illnesses that could have been prevented with improved access to sanitation. Poor sanitation was responsible for 30 percent of reported health cases in 2017. Healthcare facilities themselves also suffer from sanitation challenges, as 40 percent of district hospitals reported severe water shortages.
- According to a report in 2015, over 50 percent of people living in urban areas only had access to an intermittent water supply; a supply that delivered water six to 12 hours per day. Additionally, this water did not meet quality guidelines. In rural areas, only 69 percent of water supply systems are functional.
- As of 2017, only 32 percent of the poorest households in Bhutan had access to improved sanitation. This is about three times less than the richest households, of which 95 percent had access to improved sanitation facilities. Government reports recognize that there are disparities in access to sanitation relating to various factors; income, disability, gender and geographic variables can all contribute.
Overall, these 10 facts about sanitation in Bhutan demonstrate that the sanitation, water and hygiene conditions are quickly improving in the country. Initiatives by the government, UNICEF and other nonprofits in the country have led to substantial positive changes. However, inequality in access to improved sanitation services remains a major issue, and Bhutan still has a long way to go to provide improved sanitation throughout the entire country.
– Kayleigh Crabb