SEATTLE — Despite many years of high economic growth, India still suffers from numerous development problems. Among the worst is poor sanitation, which is responsible for an estimated one in 10 deaths in the country every year.
Now, India’s government is hoping to change that with the help of a $1.5 billion loan from the World Bank. The money will go to support the rural component of Clean India Mission, the country’s largest ever campaign to improve rural sanitation.
According to the World Bank and the United Nations, poor sanitation is both a problem in itself and the root cause of several other problems that hold back developing countries like India.
In addition, unsanitary conditions in many villages make diseases and malnutrition more prevalent. According to UNICEF, nearly one-half of Indian children are malnourished, in part because so many of them contract enteropathy, a chronic illness that prevents the body from properly absorbing nutrients.
This also takes an economic toll. The World Bank estimates that poor sanitation costs India 6.4 percent of GDP per year.
The biggest obstacle to improving this situation is the longstanding practice of open defecation. As The Economist noted, more than 72 percent of rural Indians must go to the bathroom outside because they lack or do not have experience using proper toilets.
Clean India Mission began in 2014 with the goal of ending open defecation in India by Oct. 2, 2019, Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday. To accomplish the goal to improve rural sanitation, the government will need to learn from past mistakes.
According to the World Bank, previous efforts to end open defecation failed primarily because the government discounted the pull of tradition. Toilets were built, but the government never fully educated people on how to use them. As a result, many Indians simply reverted to longstanding patterns of behavior and the newly-built facilities fell into disuse.
The new Mission will correct this error by using “trained facilitators to motivate people to use toilets by addressing the cultural and behavioral patterns that have prevented them from doing so,” according to a World Bank press release.
Eventually, each village will take responsibility for designing and constructing its own toilets and waste-management facilities, with the government providing financial and technical assistance.
As a condition of the World Bank loan, the government will also closely monitor progress on the ground and conduct regular evaluations to determine what improvements have been made and which ones are still needed.
– Matthew Housiaux