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India’s water and sanitation crisis

Nearly half of the population in India currently practices open defecation.
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Dec 18, 2015
With more than 600 million people forced to practice open defecation in India, we are talking about more than twice the number of people as in the next 18 countries combined who do not have a safe, private place to go to the bathroom.

Sarina Prabasi

WaterAid America Chief Executive

WaterAid called on New York business leaders to ensure that millions of people in India have and use something that most of the world takes for granted within the next four years: a toilet. The unprecedented opportunity to achieve a clean India was presented in Manhattan at an exclusive gathering of prominent New York residents with a connection to India and an interest in the sustainable progress of humanity.

India faces herculean challenges in providing and maintaining the two basic services of safe drinking water and improved sanitation. With more people than any other country in the world living without access to improved sanitation, nearly half of the population in India currently practices open defecation.

Fourteen months after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission first announced an ambitious campaign to ensure that every household in India has a toilet by 2019, more than $360 million USD have been invested in toilet construction, and more than 2.5 million toilets have been built across the country.

But more than 100 million additional toilets must be built within the next four years in order to achieve the achievable vision of an open-defecation-free India. That’s nearly 70,000 toilets that need to be built each day, and the resources required to achieve this are not yet fully in place.

The ambitious goal to deliver water and sanitation to all in India is achievable, but requires dedicated political will and financing. The political will is now in place, but financing such an ambitious goal also depends on support from people in the United States so that millions of Indians can move out of poverty and lead a life of dignity.

WaterAid America Chief Executive, Sarina Prabasi said: “With more than 600 million people forced to practice open defecation in India, we are talking about more than twice the number of people as in the next 18 countries combined who do not have a safe, private place to go to the bathroom.

Clean water, toilets and basic hygiene practices like handwashing with soap are critical to eradicating extreme poverty. We don’t have a chance of meeting global goals for universal access to clean water and sanitation (Goal 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals), without accelerated, but long-lasting change in India. It’s up to all of us to make that happen.”

The lack of access to safe toilets has serious consequences. It spreads fecal matter, causing sickness. More than 140,000 children under the age of five die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in India.

Going for open defecation is also embarrassing, smelly and dirty, and it exposes women and girls to an increased risk of fear, harassment and attack.

In a WaterAid survey of 9,644 Dalit households from rural villages in four Indian states, a quarter (26%) of those questioned reported women from their household being insulted or humiliated when practicing open defecation. Six percent specifically reported women from their household being sexually harassed when practicing open defecation. Investment from US-based donors is critical to solving the sanitation crisis at the heart of these issues.