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14 to 40 in 20 years – Status of Rural toilets in India and SBM

Swachch Bharat Mission aims at Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2019. The erstwhile NBA, rechristened as Swachch Bharat Mission, is being carried out in a mission mode and a results based approach is being followed. It is evident from a recent tender from the Department of Panchayati Raj & Rural development, from a state Govt. Perhaps many other states are following the suit. Significant attention was being paid to coverage (ie. construction of toilets) followed by it’s usage to ensure ODF. Heartening to note that sustainability of ODF status is also given due importance in these requests.

But, achieving 100% ODF within 3-4 year time sounds like a humongous target. India lacks both in terms of hardware and software in sanitation. If we look at the current status of toilets in India, more than half of us defecate in open currently.

If we just look at the trends – it took us about 20 years to reach forty percent (NSSO 69th round 2012-13 and MDWS Baseline survey 2012-13) coverage from fourteen percent in 1993 as per NSSO (49th round) estimates. [Please see chart: % HH having latrine (Rural)]

Okay, one can think that the toilets can still be constructed with the honest effort of the executing agencies and the desired political commitment, which perhaps exists. But the real challenge will be in implementing the software bit of it. Making people use toilets by changing their age old practice of open defecation may be a big challenge. Concerted efforts may have to be made in order to change their current behaviour.

Effective Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) models may have to be developed, piloted and implemented with good amount of perseverance. They have to be tailored and targeted to the specific audience and need not be based on “one size fit all” theory.

And then, ensuring sustainability of the practices will be very critical, as we can easily slip back to our original practice. It may be a good idea to do some scientific studies to using using a combination of methodologies like RCT, Quasi-Experimental and observational cohort study (OCS) to accept / reject the hypothesis.

Having said these, if we see things at a macro level, our country, especially in rural India, we still struggle for basic food, shelter and water needs. Therefore for most of us, sanitation is not our top priority. I remember, while conducting a study in Bihar, when I was discussing the importance of desired sanitation behaviors with one of my respondents in Gaya district, he very candidly said “pehle khana kahyege tab na pakhana ke bare mein sochenge” (I would first like to think about how to fill my stomach before thinking of defecating). Very valid!

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