Policy and advocacy for sanitation

India’s sanitation campaigns have cost 40 times Mars mission budget

Since 1986, India has spent over $3 billion on constructing toilets across the country, figures from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation show. Since 1986, India has spent over $3 billion on constructing toilets across the country, figures from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation show. Despite such massive investments, India’s sanitation campaigns over the years have unfortunately yielded limited results. India continues to have the largest number of people who defecate in the open.

Action Learning: Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s missing master key

The number and nature of the many forces that intertwine to trap rural Indians in filth and infections are still not fully recognised. Widespread preference for open defecation (OD), subsidised toilets, corruption, caste and divided communities, concepts of purity, population increase and density, faecally-transmitted infections (FTIs) causing undernutrition (‘shit stunts’), diminishing cognitive ability and damaging immune systems, and the multiple physical and social harms inflicted on women and girls – these are among the forces that interlock as a syndrome - a net, a trap, a prison - escape from which is fiendishly difficult.

To end open defecation, make Indians want to

Over half of all Indians defecate in the open, and in rural areas, this figure is about 70 per cent. In contrast, less than 1 per cent of people in China, 4 per cent of people in Bangladesh, and about a quarter of people in Sub-Saharan Africa defecate in the open. Why is there so much more open defecation in India? Considering that open defecation in rural India causes death, disease, malnutrition and the loss of economic productivity, understanding why it is so common is an important priority.

Not just toilets

The Indian Prime Minister has given a call for ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) as a mass movement to realise Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a clean India. He deviated from convention and made sanitation a central theme of his Independence Day speech, making it a political priority, and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, launched today, aims to make the country open defecation-free by 2019. India is become the world’s largest open defecator, and of the 1 billion people worldwide who have no toilets, India accounts for 600 million.

Will Narendra Modi free India from open defecation?

“Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in the open?” With these words, the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week pushed sanitation up the hierarchy of national concerns. Using the solemn speech in the annual commemoration of the Independence Day, Modi announced a new campaign to eliminate open defecation – the practice of people relieving themselves in the open – by 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth in 2019.

What do toilets have to do with nutrition? More than you might think

Approximately 160 million children under the age of 5 are stunted. This means they are failing to grow well and lack of height can be a marker of a whole range of developmental setbacks including cognitive impairment. The 2013 Lancet series on maternal and child nutrition confirmed that to reduce stunting we need three things: an enabling environment for political commitment; a scaled-up series of cost-effective nutrition interventions and robust underlying drivers (food security, empowered women and a supportive health environment).

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