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In spite of widespread disease, many rural Indian villages refuse to use flush toilets

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
8/4/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Open defecation remains ongoing practice in many areas

While many African villages have made headway in combating such deadly disease as cholera with the mandated use of indoor flush toilets, the idea still hasn't caught on in many rural parts of India. Open defecation is still widely practiced there, in spite of the spread of debilitating diseases.

India's cast system has led to a select class of women called 'night soil gatherers,' women who gather feces from non-flush toilets.

India's cast system has led to a select class of women called "night soil gatherers," women who gather feces from non-flush toilets.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
8/4/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: India, sanitation, flush toilets, open defecation, diseases


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - There are several cultural norms working against flush toilets in rural India. One mother, who along with her four children eschew toilets to defecate n an open field, says that toilets are only for "city-dwellers who don't have space to go in the open . Feces don't belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep."

Attitudes such as these may prove to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's biggest challenge in combating the world's biggest sanitation problem. Open defecation costs India 600,000 lives annually from diarrhea and exposes a third of the nation's women to the risk of rape or sexual assault.

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Without toilets for half the population, Modi promised to build 5.3 million latrines by the end of his first 100 days in office, which would be one a second until Aug. 31, according to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

"Targets for construction of toilets are somewhat irrelevant to resolving the sanitation problem," Yamini Aiyar, director of policy research group Accountability Initiative in New Delhi says. "Building toilets does not mean that people will use them and there seems to be a host of cultural, social and caste-based reasons for that. People need to be taught the value of sanitation."

These needs are not being addressed. More than half of the country's sanitation education budget since 1999 hasn't been spent, according to the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation. In at least five of India's poorest states, the majority of people in households with a government latrine don't use it.

The government has set Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birthday in 2019 as its target for achieving "total sanitation," including access to toilets for all 1.2 billion residents, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech earlier this month.

While Jaitley doubled spending on new toilets to 40 billion rupees, the ratio of those funds that can be spent on information, education and communication, remains at 15 percent.

About 100,000 tons of Indian villager's excrement heads to markets every day on fruit and vegetables, according to UNICEF, the United Nations children's fund. Each gram of feces in an open field contains 10 million viruses, one million bacteria and 1,000 parasite cysts.

The feces n turn contaminates groundwater, causing illnesses such as diarrhea and cholera, and deters tourists whose immune systems are at the highest risk from the drug-resistant strains of fecal bacteria.

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