Soap scheme doesn't wash

Local people of Kerala upset over being sermonised on hygiene

Published: Friday 15 November 2002

an ambitious international project to promote washing hands with soap in Kerala has evoked a sharp response from the hygiene conscious people of the state. Recent media reports suggest that the 'Public Private Partnership for Hand Washing' project has infuriated Keralites, who contend that westerners have no right to preach hygiene to them, since they themselves are not clean.

Pilot projects of the Rs 48-crore scheme, proposed in February 2001, are to be conducted in Kerala and Ghana. Lintas, World Bank, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Indian Soaps and Toiletries Makers' Association, World Health Organisation and the Kerala government are partners in the project. Despite top institutions backing the scheme, it has raised several questions. For instance, it is being asked why Kerala -- with a high health and sanitation index -- was selected. The authorities' answer is that Kerala has been chosen because it satisfies all the prerequisites to make the plan a success. As to why only hand washing is being promoted, authorities say that cleaning hands with soap reduces diarrhoea by 40 per cent. A study by the Kerala Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (krwssa) shows that only 14 per cent of Keralites wash hands with soap after defecation. "Around six lakh cases of diarrhoea per year can be reduced with soap usage," says Arun S Raj, project associate, krwssa. But it seems the plan is being promoted in isolation without alternatives being explored. There is an aside to the scheme: the soap industry will be a major benefactor. Hindustan Lever Limited (hll) has reportedly been chosen to represent the toiletries association in the project. The company, however, refused to comment. The World Bank, too, is tight-lipped stating that the plan is yet to be finalised.

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