Modi’s bold toilet claim in question as India marks Gandhi’s 150th

Modi’s bold toilet claim in question as India marks Gandhi’s 150th
The number of people who relieved themselves in public dropped from 550 million in 2014 to 50 million in 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 October 2019

Modi’s bold toilet claim in question as India marks Gandhi’s 150th

Modi’s bold toilet claim in question as India marks Gandhi’s 150th
  • Modi’s government says they built 100 million toilets since he assumed office
  • They reported that less than 50 million people relieved themselves outside now

NEW DELHI: India is to be declared “open-defecation free” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening, although experts question his bold claim that all 1.3 billion people in the country have access to a toilet.
Modi made his “latrines for all” pledge when he first assumed office in 2014 and is hailing the project’s success as India celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, a sanitation champion.
Since being elected, Modi’s government says it has built almost 100 million toilets, winning the leader plaudits abroad, including an award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last week.
In March, the government had said fewer than 50 million people relieved themselves outside, down from 550 million in 2014, with more than 550,000 villages declared open-defecation free.
However, experts are skeptical over his claims, citing data from rural as well as urban areas.
“A lot of latrines have been constructed from 2014 to 2018. Latrine ownership increased from about 35 percent to about 70 percent,” said Sangita Vyas from the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE).
“That increase did accelerate the reduction of open defecation but in December 2018 we estimated about half of people in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan still defecated in the open,” she told AFP, doubting that the shortfall has been made up since.
Many of the toilets that have been constructed are without a water connection and even when they are connected, cultural barriers stop many Indians from using them, experts say.
Modi, 69, was set to make the grand announcement in his western home state of Gujarat on Wednesday evening in front of 20,000 village chiefs.
He was also due to visit the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, where Gandhi based himself for many years, and where 10,000 jars of treated human faecal matter were to be handed to guests, the Indian Express daily reported.
The nutrient-rich matter — sun-dried, sieved into a tea leaf-like consistency and packed into the glass jars together with seeds — will then sprout upon watering.
Before that, Modi early on Wednesday paid his respects to Gandhi, who was assassinated the year after India gained independence from Britain in 1947, at the Raj Ghat memorial in New Delhi.
He said on Twitter that India was expressing “gratitude to Mahatma Gandhi for his everlasting contribution to humanity. We pledge to continue working hard to realize his dreams and create a better planet.”
Other events also took place nationwide including in a hospital room in Pune where Gandhi was operated on for appendicitis in 1924.
As many as 600 prisoners were also set to be released in an amnesty, media reports said.
Later on Wednesday, a year-long, 14,000-kilometer “global peace” march was due to leave Delhi bound for Switzerland and taking in 10 countries.


Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Updated 02 December 2020

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park
  • In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the perimeter of Kahuzi-Biega National Park and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal
  • According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the habitat of endangered gorillas

BUKAVU, DR Congo: Three Pygmies and a soldier were killed in clashes near DR Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, military sources and local officials said Wednesday, as calls grow for protection of the country’s indigenous peoples.
The national park, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday, is a haven for critically endangered gorillas but faces an emerging threat from a conflict between rangers and local Pygmies, who claim they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s.
The central African country’s parliament is currently considering a law to guarantee the rights of Pygmies.
Clashes erupted on Monday in the nearby village of Kabamba in South Kivu province, military sources and the territory’s administrator Thadee Miderho said Wednesday.
In addition to the four killed, others were wounded, they said.
The Pygmies wanted to retrieve bags of charcoal seized by the military, according to Miderho.
In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the park’s perimeter and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal.
According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the gorillas’ habitat.
Their return led to open conflict between Pygmies and rangers in which people on both sides have been killed.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park celebrated 50 years of existence on Monday, priding itself as “a sanctuary and refuge” of eastern lowland gorillas.
Meanwhile a civil society group in the territory of Kabare wrote an open letter to UNESCO asking for it to help “save” the Pygmies.
“Fifty years later, the existence of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park = 50 years of suffering of our Pygmies brothers and sisters,” the group wrote.
In the capital Kinshasa, the National Assembly passed a bill on November 26 for the “protection and promotion of the rights of the indigenous Pygmy peoples,” which will now be considered by the Senate.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, unlike other indigenous ethnic groups, the Pygmies have not always received special attention as an indigenous group,” parliament acknowledged in a memorandum.
The proposed law guarantees the recognition of the culture of the Pygmies, easy access to justice and social services, and “full access to the land.”