The United Nations children’s agency says 22 million Pakistanis relieve themselves in the open. In rural areas just 48 per cent of the population has access to toilets, compared with 72 per cent in the cities.
Some 53,000 children die each year from diarrhoea in Pakistan after consuming polluted water, according to UN data.
Typhoid, cholera, dysentery and hepatitis are common. Those who do not die “tend to see reduced capacity of their body to absorb nutrients”, says Kitka Goyol, a Unicef expert on water and hygiene. That can be a factor in stunting, which afflicts 44 per cent of Pakistani children.
The UN, which marked World Toilet Day this week, says the lack of toilets costs Pakistan up to $2.5 billion per year.
Prime Minister Khan, who came to power in August, vowed last month to “eradicate the deficit of toilets in the country by 2023”.
His counterpart in neighbouring rival India, Narendra Modi, launched his own aggressive sanitation drive in 2014.
New Delhi claims it has slashed the number of people forced to defecate in the open from 550 million that year to less than 150 million today.
Khan’s government, meanwhile, has launched “Clean Green Pakistan”, a massive social and environmental initiative seeking to shift behaviour in areas including sanitation, minister of climate change Malik Amin Aslam said. He did not offer details, however.
Non-profits such as LPP, which is not part of Clean Green Pakistan, are already paving the way in places like Basti Ameerwala, where 15 out of 60 households now have latrines.
In the neighboring hamlet of Chah Jamalianwala, where LPP also works, 35 out of 60 houses have one, six of which have been built in recent weeks.