Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, last year launched a public service advert in India through a character called Poo, with the tagline — ‘It’s time to take Poo to the Loo’. The target was open defecation, a serious problem.
Taking Poo to the toilet, it turns out, is a formidable task before the Modi government.
About 40% of rural households in UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana that have a functioning toilet still have a “revealed preference” for open defecation, a new study has found.
Unicef estimates close to 600 million Indians practise open defecation, piling up more than 143 million pounds of solid human waste and putting the public at risk for “life-threatening infections, diseases and epidemics”.
Just giving people a toilet, as announced by Prime Minister Modi, isn’t going to work unless appropriate strategies are drawn up, researchers associated with the study point out.
Nearly 47% of those surveyed said defecating in the open was “pleasurable, comfortable, or convenient”. Some considered open defecation as a way to a “wholesome, healthy virtuous life”.
Experts say strategies have to go beyond mere campaigning and include surveys to track changes in open defecation. “The government cannot credibly claim to be attempting to end open defecation by 2019 or any year if it is not measuring and monitoring it,” Princeton economist Diane Coffey, lead researcher of the study, told HT.
India has increased access to toilets since 1990, when 75% of the population defecated in the open, mainly through government-built toilets.
That doesn’t mean people are using them. According to Unicef’s 2014 Drinking Water and Sanitation Update, “India continues to be the country with the highest number of people (597 million) practising open defecation”.