Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Behavioral Change over Toilet Building

Open defecation is rampant in our country. According to a report by the World Health Organization, India is ranked the highest when it comes to the number of people practicing open defecation. The percentage reduction is also nominal, and we fall behind countries like Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and so on. It does not only threaten health, hygiene and environment, but the lack of toilets is a roadblock in education of girls in our country, and a threat to security of women who go out in the open to relieve themselves. Many female students leave schools when they hit puberty due to the absence of separate toilets for boys and girls.

The problem of open defecation can be analyzed on three levels.

  • First, due to poverty and lack of finance people are unable to build toilets.
  • Second, is the poor quality, inadequate numbers, poor maintenance of toilets and lack of water supply in public toilets has made the condition of most of our public toilets such that users prefer to defecate in the open. In other words, blame for open defecation due to poor infrastructure must rest squarely at the government’s door.
  • Third and the most important cause is the attitude of the people towards latrine usage. Most of the researches done on use of latrines have come up to the same conclusion that the people who have government latrines in their houses do not use them on the regular basis. Even when people have access to privately build latrines they perceive few health benefits of using a latrine.

Studies show that in 20-49% of even those households which have toilets within the house, at least one member defecates in the open.

Therefore latrine construction is not enough. Any successful campaign need to address why people do not use latrines in first place. So, there is a need to take a large scale awareness drive on negative effects of open defecation. This could be achieved through involvement of civil society and incentivizing local Panchayat with appropriate allocation of funds. However, the reduction in the budget of the Information Education and Communication (IEC) component (from 15 percent to 8 percent), which is critical to trigger behavioral change to ensure usage of toilets, is a matter of concern. It needs to be understood that without effective allocation of funds the programme will not achieve its required objectives. {Please read about the success of Banko Bikano campaign in Bikaner Rajasthan here}

Other initiatives like hygiene education can be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum, as opposed to leaving it to the discretion of State Education Boards to decide whether or not they want to include it. Once good hygiene habits have been inculcated into children, they can champion the cause of sanitation in their families and communities, thus, triggering much needed behavioral change. Any initiative without a behavioral change will bring no results.

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