A top priority of India’s new government is to end defecating in the open by 2019. This is very exciting !
This week’s Economist has some of the disturbing details (and a somewhat graphic image):
Some 130m households lack toilets. More than 72% of rural people relieve themselves behind bushes, in fields or by roadsides. The share is barely shrinking. Of the 1 billion people in the world who have no toilet, India accounts for nearly 600m.
The Economist notes that the government plans to build 5.2 million toilets between now and September – one every second. But this isn’t necessarily an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. Convincing people to use the toilets will be a challenge.
That’s because defecating outdoors, away from home, is considered by many rural Indians – especially Hindus – to be cleaner than using indoor toilets.
A new household survey of nearly 23,000 north Indians … found that even among households with a working latrine, more than 40% reported that at least one family member preferred to defecate in the open. Those with a government-built toilet were especially likely to choose a bush instead.
In an unpublished parallel survey of Hindu-dominated villages in north India and Nepal, respondents lauded open defecation as wholesome, healthy and social [Ed. –social?! WTF?]. By contrast, latrines were seen as potentially impure, especially if near the home. Men often described them as for use only by women, the infirm and the elderly. In short, demand for latrines is constrained.
No doubt taking one’s business across the field was a cleaner option before indoor plumbing. And even Americans are now trying to re-create the benefits of squatting in a field. But given India’s population density and some careless decisions about where to go and whether to wash afterward, outdoor squatting now just spreads disease.
India’s Muslims, for the most part, don’t share the Hindu cultural bias against indoor toilets, which is a big reason Muslim children in India are much less likely than Hindu children to die before age 5.
Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, is committed to changing the anti-toilet culture, in the interest of health, safety, sanitation, and a better economy. In this context, it’s noteworthy that Modi’s most fervent supporters are Hindu nationalists and the biggest black mark on his record as governor of Gujarat was a general hostility to Muslims, including a grievous failure to stop anti-Muslim riots.
Modern India has many challenges from hygiene to feeding her 1.4 Billion people. What do you think is the most urgent? Mr. Modi ran on “more toilets” and started this campaign almost immediately to fulfill it. Mahatma Gandhi said “Cleanliness is more important than independence!” What are your thoughts?