10 reasons why India needs to be Open Defecation Free

Open defecation refers to the practice in which people go out in fields, bushes, open water bodies, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet. The practice is rampant and the condition of open defecation in India is alarming.

Pic Credit: Ajay Tallam | CC BY 2.0

Campaigns have been on for open defecation free (ODF) India since 1954 when rural sanitation programme was first introduced as part of the First Five-Year Plan.

The UPA government headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had launched the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan to eliminate open defecation by giving awards to ODF villages. The NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also taken up the task of making all villages in India ODF by 2019 through its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Here are 10 reasons why India needs to be ODF:

1. Around 595 million people of India defecate in the open – which according to Unicef is the largest in the world – and excrete close to 65,000 tonnes of faeces into the environment each day, causing serious health hazards for people, especially children.

2. One gram of faeces contains 100 lakh viruses, 1 lakh bacteria and 1,000 parasite cysts (child faeces contain more germs than adults). It is very dangerous for the society that lived in that area.

3. Every year, diarrhea kills 188,000 children under five in India. Children weakened by frequent diarrhea are more vulnerable to malnutrition and other infections such as pneumonia.

4. Women face severe problems because of open defecation. It risks the dignity of women, who feel constrained to relieve themselves only in the night or under the cover of dark for reasons of privacy. It also exposes women to the danger of physical attacks and encounters such as snake bites, especially in rural areas.

5. About 65% of people in rural areas do not have toilets. Only 11 % of Indian rural families dispose of child faeces safely, while 8% of children’s faeces are left in the open or thrown into the garbage. Around 44 % of mothers dispose their children’s faeces in the open, thereby contaminating water which causes diarrhea in children.

6. The practice of open defecation is not limited to rural India as 12% people in urban area defecate in the open. Open defecation in urban areas is driven by lack of space to build toilets in high-density areas, landlords not providing toilets to the tenant and the latter not willing to invest to construct on their own.

7. The condition of government and private schools is also not very good. According to the Annual Status of Education Report 2014, only 6% government schools do not have toilets but an additional 28.5% do not have usable toilets. 18.8% Schools do not have girls’ toilets and 26% have girls’ toilets that are locked or not usable.

8. In 2000, The Maharashtra government introduced a policy to encourage villages and communities towards achieving the goal of total sanitation. Named Sant Gadage Baba Gram Swacchta Abhiyaan (SGBGSA) and Rashtrasant Tukdoji MaharajSwacch Gram Spardha (RSTMSGS), the new policy introduced a competition of cleanliness among villages. Every year, awards were given to gram panchayats for their excellence in sanitation. In last ten years, many villages received awards under this campaign. Amongst them, several villages still continue to be role models in sanitation, though many others have failed to institutionalise the ODF status.

9. According to the website of the Central government’s Swachh Bharat Mission, more than 1.82 crore toilets have been constructed till May 10. The entire state of Sikkim, Nadia district of West Bengal, Bikaner district of Rajasthan, Indore district of Madhya Pradesh and 19,501 gram panchayats across the country have already been declared ODF.

10. Besides the construction of toilets, SBM aims to bring a sustainable change and through its campaign attempts to make owning a toilet at home an aspiration. Construction of toilet at home is highly subsidized for BPL families.

Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly emphasized on the need of sanitation and toilet adoption. It is for the first time that the central government has prioritized the sanitation movement and has set a deadline for completion along with increasing incentive for toilet construction.

Though the government has been doing outstanding work to make India ODF, it needs to involve the community to make the drive a success.

The drive runs the risk of going off track if the government makes all policies without engaging the local communities. So the government and people must work together to achieve the goal of ODF India.