The crisis of sanitation in India is not only an Indian centric problem, but it has now become a global challenge for all major countries bringing together politicians, policymakers, economist, Govts., many research and international organizations together on one platform.
The battle to end open defecation in India needs to be fought on two fronts- on the ground by building toilets and sanitation infrastructure and more importantly in the minds of the people by repositioning toilets so that latrine use becomes a norm.
The need is to drive a demand for toilets and until we do so, we will not see any uptake and usage of toilets in India even though we may build toilets for them.
The glaring statistical figures show that about one billion people practice open defecation and about 60 million (i.e. about 60%) reside in India alone.
The ill effects of poor sanitation on public health include the spread of cholera, typhoid, worm infection and diarrhea, as well as reduced physical growth, undernutrition and impaired, cognitive function etc. The countries where open defecation is most widely practiced have the highest number of deaths of children under the age of five. The cases of open defecation have also a very strong relationship with gender-based violence and sexual assault.
The Swachh Bharat Mission launched by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a strong impetus to the sanitation agenda in India by launching a massive drive of building toilet infrastructure – 111 million toilets will be built by 2019. But the most important question still remains that by simply building toilets and sanitation infrastructure will stop open defecation in India. The answer is simply “no”. Having access to safe and clean toilets is just beginning but it does not address long-standing habits or have personal preferences affects behavior with regards to toilet use. Most often we have seen toilets built in India in the past being abandoned or used as store rooms.
Therefore, the focus has to be on behavior change. Our government counterparts from the national to the municipal and local levels along with development partners and donors must internalize that changing behavior cannot be an add-on. It has to be central to any development program to eradicate open defecation.
The economics of poor sanitation can be clearly seen in the negative externalities. If the entire communities and social norms are not shifting, then health and economic benefits will not be realized. Such negative externalities will affect the GDP of a country. Interventions which focus on collective behavior change and shifting social norms are vital in an effort to fight open defecation in India.
What can be done?
The role of private sector in a drive to attain total sanitation is crucial. The private sector is better equipped to understand consumer profiles of the people living into the remotest locations of rural India. By harnessing the expertise of the private sector in assessing consumer wants, needs how they think and act. We can mobilize the state of art behavior change communications in an effort to eradicate open defecation.
ASHA is working towards global solutions in fighting this ever increasing menace of poor sanitation by bringing an overall behavior and attitudinal change. Our overall focus is on behavioral change of the people to equip them with proper sanitation technics. Therefore, technological intervention which focus on collective behavior change and shifting social norms form important pillar to eradicate open defecation.