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Came across an interesting article in the Business Line newspaper (18 Nov 2010) that talked about India’s sanitation woes. What really got me reading the article was the mention that a much larger percentage of Indians had mobile phones than those who had toilets. It struck me as an astonishing fact.

That also got me reading the entire article, a summary of which I am providing below.

India has one of the lowest sanitation rates in the world according to the Millennium Development Goals India Country Report 2009. The district level Household and Facility Survey 2007-08 further indicates that more than 50 percent of the households in India have no access to toilets and are using open spaces for defecating. This roughly adds to about 500 million people without access to the basic sanitary need of closed toilet spaces. Can you imagine – 500 million folks without one of the most basic necessities!

Besides, access to toilets in other buildings like health centers, public spaces and schools is lacking all across the country. For girls in particular the lack of separate toilets in schools has been one of the factors for high dropout rates. According to the DISE (District Information System for Education) data 2008-09, just a little over 50% of all schools in India had girl’s toilets. According to ASER 2009 (Assessment, Survey, Education , Research), the percentage of schools with no water or toilet provisions has been declining over time. However, about four in ten government primary schools do not have a separate toilets for girls; and while 12-15% of the toilets are locked only less than half are useable. Extra-ordinary, isn’t it. I used to think social factors were alone to blame for high schools dropouts for girls. It appears that hygiene factors could be as much to blame!

The government’s Total Sanitation Campaign was launched in 1999, restructuring the Central Rural Sanitation to make it demand and people-centered. Under this, a nominal subsidy was given to rural poor households for construction of toilets. It emphasized on information, capacity building and hygiene education for effective behavior change. This involved the communities through the panchayats, NGOs and volunteers to cover major areas such as individual household latrines, school sanitation and community sanitary complexes.

Despite all the policy moves, significant results are yet to be achieved. A recent United Nations report has highlighted the fact that the number of Indians who have access to mobile phones outnumber those without access to basic sanitation by a huge number.

Shows what an important contribution organizations such as Sulabh International are making.