Not enough takers for the toilet? Over half of toilets built under Swachh Bharat unused

More than a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet Swachh Bharat campaign was launched across the country, statistics appear to be making it increasingly clear that the focus of the campaign needs to be more than merely constructing toilets. A survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) has revealed that not even half the toilets built as part of the campaign are being used, according to a report in The Economic Times.

This makes the objective of the campaign — to make gram panchayats open defecation-free by the year 2019 — more difficult than it might seem.

 Not enough takers for the toilet? Over half of toilets built under Swachh Bharat unused

Representational image. Image courtesy: Reuters

In rural areas, just 46 percent of the toilets are being used, while in urban areas, the figure is barely 50 percent, according to an Economic Times report.

The report quotes an official as saying that this was because households which had newly-constructed toilets had been allowing the households which did not have these facilities to use their toilets. However, it is not clear how, in that case, the toilets would be found to be unused.

In fact, a report by the sub-group of chief ministers on Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, published by the NITI Aayog in October 2015, tells a different story. The report cites a 'SQUAT' (Sanitation Quality, Use, Access and Trends) survey conducted in five states of north India and finds a 'revealed preference' for open defecation. Out of the total number of people who were found to be relieving themselves in the open, 47 percent did so because it was pleasurable or convenient, and that defecating in the open gives them a chance to take a morning walk, have a look around their fields, or simply take in the fresh air.

The survey found that people who had toilets built with government support were more than twice as likely to defecate in the open, as compared to those who had privately constructed toilets. The report of the sub-group said that it felt that bringing about a behavioural change is the 'core' of the Swachh Bharat Mission, and pointed out that access to sanitation by itself does not translate into usage.

Yet, this realisation does not seem to reflect on the pattern of spending on the campaign. An article in Mint points out that in 2014-15, as much as 90 percent of the proposed funding went to construction of toilets. On the other hand, the budget for awareness-related activities was reduced from 15 percent to 8 percent, according to an article published by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.

Recently, WaterAid, an international charity organisation had pointed out in its report that about 58% of deaths due to diarrhea can be prevented by clean water, sanitation and good hygiene, including hand washing with soap. The report had said that diarrhea is one of the most killers of children globally, along with pneumonia and malaria.

An article by Arvind Panagariya, the vice-chairman of the NITI Aayog, in The Times of India in November 2014 had pointed out that access to piped water, sewage systems and solid waste management systems are equally important for the Swachh Bharat Mission.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2015 17:28:48 IST