India has made rapid progress in ending open defecation across the Country which is having a huge impact on improving water, sanitation and hygeine (WASH). Just a few years ago, in 2015, nearly half of India’s population of around 568 million people suffered the indignity of defecating in fields, forests, bodies of water, or other public spaces due to lack of access to toilets. India alone accounted for 90 per cent of the people in South Asia and half of the 1.2 billion people in the world that defecated in the open.
By 2019, according to the latest estimates, the number of people without access to toilets has reduced significantly by an estimated 450 million people. A tremendous achievement, only possible because of the Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) (Clean India Campaign), led by the Prime Minister. UNICEF has been a proud partner of the Swacch Bharat Mission.
Going forward, it is important to ensure that there is sustained usage of toilets by, all at all time.
Whether in the cities or the countryside, open defecation has historically been most prevalent among the poorest citizens.
This practice amounted to tonnes of faeces introduced daily into the environment, which regularly exposed India’s children to excrement through direct contact. The risk of spreading diarrheal and waterborne diseases is compounded by the lack of regular handwashing and microbial contamination of water in their homes and communities. The situation contributed to nearly 100,000 diarrhoeal deaths of children under five years in India.
Poor sanitation can also have a ripple effect when it hinders national development because workers are suffering from illnesses and living shorter lives, thereby producing and earning less, and unable to afford education and stable futures for their children.
Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in India’s health facilities, contributes to the high neonatal mortality rate, which is currently 24 deaths per 1000 live births. Sepsis – mostly spread in health facilities – contributes to 15 per cent of the overall neonatal mortality and 11 per cent of maternal deaths. And the risks do not end there when they are brought home to a community that lacks toilets.
(Source: Lancet report 2014)
In India’s schools, recent reports also showed that 22 per cent did not have appropriate toilets for girls, 58 per cent of preschools had no toilet at all and 56 per cent of preschools had no water on the premises.
(Source: Rapid survey on children 2013-14)
Less than 50 per cent of the population has access to safely managed drinking water (located on premises, available when needed and free of contamination). Chemical contamination of water, mainly through fluoride and arsenic, is present in 1.96 million dwellings. Moreover, two-thirds of India’s 718 districts are affected by extreme water depletion, and the current lack of planning for water safety and security is a major concern.
India has made rapid progress in ending open defecation across the Country. The number of people defecating in open in India has reduced significantly by an estimated 450 million people. However, we all need to ensure sustained use of toilets and hygiene practices by all, at all times.