What's the use? A tale of two latrines

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Over the past few weeks, I visited India for the first time, primarily to work on a research project about the economic effects of sanitation.  During that time, I had the chance to visit several villages in northern India, starting with one that won the "Nirmal Gram Puraskar" clean village prize for being open defecation free a few years ago.

At a superficial level, it was an impressive sight; prior to winning the prize, this village had received a set of latrines from the government, and thus there was a latrine on every corner, so to speak.  But a closer look showed a much more ambiguous picture; many of those latrines no longer appear to be in use, if they ever were.  And last year, the village received a new set of latrines with fancy metal doors, which would hardly seem necessary if the original set had been sufficient to eliminate open defecation.

The pictures below document the story; in one particularly odd case, an old and a new latrine can be found right next to each other.  The old one is clearly no longer in use, and while the new one looks good from the outside (complete with a large yellow sign painted on the side that states the sources of funding that paid for it), its door appears to open directly into a tree, which makes one wonder how frequently it is used.  Another picture displays a latrine in another part of the village with a locked door; peeking through the door I observed that it is now being used for storage of valuables!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I visited this village because I knew it was an NGP winner, but later in the day I also visited two more (arbitrarily selected) villages in the same district, and there what progress has been made towards latrine use in the first village was absent; I observed only a single latrine between the two villages.

My experiences highlight the ongoing challenges of eliminating open defecation in India: the dual challenges of providing latrines and encouraging the use thereof both need to be overcome, and there is still a long way to go.

Nicholas Lawson is a postdoctoral fellow at the Aix-Marseille School of Economics.

Date: 18 March 2014
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India