Government survey shows 90% villages ODF free
Boosting government claims of substantially improving access to toilets, a flagship state-sponsored annual survey monitoring progress under Swachh Bharat Gramin, the rural sanitation mission, has shown that 90.7% of villages were “confirmed open-defecation free (ODF)”.
Provisional findings of the second National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) 2018-19, which tracks progress against a similar 2017-18 baseline study, also showed that 93.1% of rural households had toilets and 96.5% of people with access to toilets used them. The survey was carried out between November 2018 and February 2019.
The survey, commissioned to an independent verification agency, monitored the programme based on indicators set by the World Bank for financial support to the programme. The key yardsticks were a reduction in open defecation, sustaining the ODF status of villages and increase in the population with access to solid/liquid waste management. IPE Global conducted the survey in a joint venture with Kantar Public after being picked through a public bidding process.
The survey process, from questionnaire design to fieldwork and quality check, was supervised by an expert working group led Amitabh Kundu, economist and former member of the National Statistical Commission and co-chaired by NC Saxena, economist and former secretary to the Union government.
The panel also had representatives from the World Bank, Unicef, Water Aid, the National Sample Survey Organisation and the government think-tank NITI Aayog, among others.
So far, under the rural sanitation project, the government has built 100 million toilets covering 500 million people across 699 districts . Yet, building state-funded toilets is easier than getting people to use them, a sample survey tracking the programme revealed last year. According to the 2018-19 survey, 9.3% villages were not ODF. This could be because they had lower than 100% access to toilets, or unhygienic or dysfunctional toilets.
“Usage of toilets has certainly gone up because of demonstration effect. It may not be 100% but it is substantial. The challenge is no longer toilet usage but of disposal of waste material because most toilets have single pits, not double pits,” said Saxena, the expert committee’s chairman.
According to Saxena, the expert committee has asked the surveyors to look into challenges of disposing of waste material because of inadequate toilet design. Evidence suggests a clear link between lack of sanitation and poor health outcomes.
The Jal Shakti ministry is now ramping up the Swachh Bharat mission from ODF to ODF Plus. ODF Plus merges the objectives of sanitation and waste management.
Private researchers tracking the open defecation phenomenon say the practice is still rampant among sections of the population. A team of demographers led by Dianne Coffey, a visiting researcher at the Indian Statistical Institute and executive director of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics, found that at least 43% of rural people in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, accounting for two-fifths of India’s rural population, still defecated in the open in 2018 because of “cultural and other reasons”. However, even this study showed the share of rural population openly defecating had greatly reduced from 70% in 2014.
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