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A peek into India’s massive Human Waste Problem

 Very recently, early in the morning around 5 am while I was on the way to the Hyderabad airport, I saw a woman getting off her SUV and making her kid urinate on a footpath (in Hyderabad), while there was a public toilet just a few metres away.
 
While I do understand that the cleanliness of the public toilets might be questionable, I’m concerned about the thought that these people have, believing it’s okay to do so in public places.
 
Open-defecation or urination requires a mindset change which is gradually taking place. Despite campaigns like Swachh Bharat, we still have 52.1% of our population (more than half) defecating in the open.
 
The “access to sanitation fallacy”
 
People assume most of the population that defecates in the open does not have access to toilets. While some of the Government-built toilets are shoddily made, they could be spruced up if the community takes charge and demands better quality ones. Interestingly, open defecation is common even in families that own a laterine.
 
While we do have news reports claiming 11 states in India are open defecation-free, the ground reality is much different due to several factors.
 
Purity, pollution and untouchability
 
Several conservative households/rural households still believe that the house is a place of worship and a toilet cannot be in the same place as it would be considered “impure”. Caste and social subordination too play a role in slow adoption of people using toilets or owning one.
 
Cost of building a toilet (and quality)
 
The laterines that are built under the Swachh Bharat Mission are much more expensive than the WHO-recommended ones. For instance: If the laterine costs Rs. 2,000 in Bangladesh, in India, the same on costs, Rs. 21,000. 
 
One of the reasons for this is the cost for digging and creating waste pits and emptying them at regular intervals (which happens rarely in rural areas).
 
For most poor households, it is economical to defecate in the open than to build a toilet inside the house. So, they would prefer open defecation.
 
Water in Toilets
 
According to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, adequate availability of water for toilets is also a concern. In rural India, 42.5 per cent of households were found to have access to water for use in the toilet compared to 88 per cent in urban India, Swachhta Status report found.
 
Open defecation in numbers
 
India fares poorly, internationally, in open-defecation. According to data compiled by R.I.C.E, Sub-Saharan Africa, which had 65 per cent of the GDP per capita of India, had only about half of the rural open defecation compared to India.
 
In Bangladesh, only 5 per cent of rural people defecate in the open, significantly lower than that in India.
 
Also, five states in India - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan account for 30% of all people worldwide who defecate in the open. 80% of rural households in these states do not own a household laterine in these 5 states.
 
Behavioural change
 
Therefore, what we need in our country is a behavioural change. It involves a change of mindset amongst people to stop open defecation and to adopt safe sanitation practices. This can be done through education, awareness and effective communication of information by breaking social myths.
 
Here’s an important point: A girl/woman in India can walk into any restaurant at any time if she needs to use the washroom.
 

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