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In India, success in improving sanitation

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In 1990, barely anyone in the villages of West Bengal's Medinipur district had household latrines. But just a decade later, roughly 80 per cent of these families possessed latrines - reducing disease and making Medinipur a role model for other parts of India.

These great gains have resulted from the innovative Medinipur Intensive Sanitation Project, a joint effort of the federal and state Governments, UNICEF and the Ramakrishna Mission Lokasiksha Parishad, a leading non-governmental organization.

© UNICEF/86-018/Isaac
Safe drinking water and sanitation are basic to human survival, dignity and productivity. Lack of these fundamentals is one of the main underlying causes of malnutrition, disease and death in children.

The villagers of Medinipur district were readily willing to invest time, energy and money in building latrines for their families because local youth clubs and women's groups dedicated themselves to explaining the benefits, from personal experience. Until the latrines became popular, most people in rural Medinipur - as elsewhere in rural India - defecated in the open.

Sanitation in Medinipur was transformed not just quickly but cheaply.

Families financed the entire costs of the latrines themselves, possible because there was a range available of cheap and effective sanitation technologies - such as single-pit latrines - that people in Medinipur approved of. And costs were kept to a minimum because local masons and village women began to manufacture and sell latrine components, once they had been trained.

Having borne the entire costs of building the latrines, families make full use of them and maintain them well.

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