Environmental impact of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural)

Study to ascertain the impact of the achievement of open defecation free status, on the environmental contamination in Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal (2019)

Anita is delighted to have a toilet constructed in her house, despite living in a very remote location in Damor Fala, Bawali, Rajasthan, India. The toilet has been a lifesaver, sparing her from the numerous difficulties of open defecation. She is diligent about practicing proper hand hygiene, always washing her hands after using the toilet.


UNICEF in India accords high priority to the provision of safe sanitation and water services to people in rural areas and has over the past many years aided through catalytic technical support to the Government of India and 15 state governments in the implementation of the various sanitation programmes and since 2014, specifically to the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM).

With the progress of the SBM-Rural, and declaration of open defecation free (ODF) communities, there is an emerging question on whether the campaign to eliminate open defecation and create ODF communities is resulting in the decrease in faecal contamination in the environment. This is also an area of interest to UNICEF as it may reveal the impact of the sanitation campaign on environmental faecal contamination, which directly affects children with role in preventing diarrhoea, enteric enteropathy, malnutrition, and stunting.  

The purpose of this scientific study is to ascertain contamination levels, related to human and animal fecal contamination in Environmental Medium viz. Water, Soil and Food in 4 numbers of villages each in one ODF and one non-ODF district in each of the three states viz. Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal. The overarching aim of study is to assess the effectiveness of sanitation interventions implemented in these villages through various programmes, and to see the effect it has had on the extent of Fecal Contamination in the environment of these villages. 

The study provided holistic recommendations covering key areas of effectiveness of the sanitation intervention in study states. It was found that for most of the sampling categories, the risk ratios indicated that residing in an ODF community had a protective effective on the environment.

In other words, ODF villages were less likely to witness contamination in their soil, water, and food as compared to non-ODF villages. In particular, groundwater was 12.7 times less likely to be contaminated with human faecal matter, and piped water 2.4 times less. The assessment currently is purely indicative, but it points to positive correlations between sanitation programming and its potential impact on health. It is important that the results are probed further and that the assessment is replicated in other districts and states, as well. 

Cover picture of report on Environmental impact of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural)
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