Though there has been a considerable improvement in sanitary conditions in the country since 1990, the number of people defecating in open is still enough to fill one-and-half football stadia every day.
According to the recently-released WHO/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme report that is brought out every two years, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target that aimed at halving the population by 2015 of those who in 1990 were without access to basic sanitation is unlikely to be met.
"Though 20 million new toilet users get added into India every year, and 251 million have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, 626 million people still defecate in the open, particularly in the rural pockets" said Aidan Cronin, wash specialist, Unicef India.
The experts have estimated that at this rate, India will be able to reach the sanitation MDG target only by 2054.
Unsanitary conditions and unsafe drinking water is a major cause for contracting water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, gastroenteritis etc, especially among children under the age of five.
"Nearly 22%, which is 1.7 million in number, of the world’s children under five years of age that died in 2010 were Indians. Diarrhea is among the largest killers," said Cronin.
In last 12 years, the percentage of people drinking contaminated water has dropped from 31% to 8%.
"The water quality, however, is not looked into as yet and is being discussed at the global level to be included in studies in future," said Cronin.
To reach out to the rural population is a big challenge before experts, who feel no matter how many schemes are introduced, unless people in rural areas are made adequately aware, it won’t be 100% effective.
"We need to focus on community-led approaches to change the mind-set of people. It might take time but will be worth the effort," said Caroline den Dulk, chief, advocacy and partnerships, Unicef India.