India is facing a massive public health issue as millions of people choose to go to the bathroom in completely open, public areas. According to BBC News, some 550 million Indians who live in villages continue to defecate out in the open, often in fields and public spaces. The practice is more common in India than in poorer countries including Kenya, Malawi, Bangladesh, and Rwanda. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it a priority to address the issue, with plans to build some 100 million new toilets across the country. Still, it will take a great deal of time, and more than just government funding to change the widespread behavior.
A new study finds that even in houses that have adequate toilet facilities, many of them provided by the state, people are choosing not to use them. The research surveyed 3,235 rural households and found that going to the bathroom outdoors is common practice among poorer and richer communities alike. Men are especially more likely to do so, compared with women.
So why do so many Indians deliberately choose to not use available latrines? Many people surveyed in the research simply said it was built into their daily routines at this point. For them, it's a regular way to get outdoors and start the day. Indian writer Shashi Tharoor also points to the cultural factors at play. In India, homes are kept very clean and people bathe regularly, but streets and public areas are often littered with garbage. There's a cultural value to keep one's body and personal space very clean, but that idea does not carry over to communal spaces.
In response, the government has hired scores of sanitation workers to go into these villages and promote latrine use. Some villages are working to impose fines on people caught defecating out in the open. There are also open-air toilets being built to help simulate the outdoor experience. Construction and funding is all well and good, but this may not be enough. As Huffington Post columnist Anoop Jain wrote, India needs community-oriented outreach programs to really motivate such massive shifts in behavior.
UN Water For Life: Access to Sanitation (via the UN)
"The United Nations estimates that there are 2.5 billion people who still do not use an improved sanitation facility and a little over 1 billion practising open defecation."
Open Defecation: A Prominent Source of Pollution in Drinking Water in Villages (via International Journal of Life Sciences, Biotechnology, and Pharma Research)
An International Journal of Life Sciences, Biotechnology and Pharma Research report on the epidemic.
Infographics: What's A Toilet's Worth? (via World Bank)
UN: World Toilet Day (via the UN)
"World Toilet Day is a day to take action. It is a day to raise awareness about all people who do not have access to a toilet - despite the human right to water and sanitation."
Toilet Board Coalition
"The Toilet Board Coalition is a global, business-led coalition of leading companies, government agencies, sanitation experts and non-profit organisations that aims to develop commercially sustainable and scalable solutions to the sanitation crisis. It is the world's first multi-discipline coalition aimed at delivering market-based sanitation initiatives for low income consumers and has the potential to provide a step change in sanitation to those who need it most."
The Unsanitary Truth About Gender Inequality in India (via The Guardian)