We propose these principles for the Indian government’s new mission for a “Clean India.” For more on the SQUAT survey, click here.
Principles for the Swachh Bharat Mission
For ensuring hygiene, waste management and sanitation across the nation a “Swachh Bharat Mission” will be launched. This will be our tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary to be celebrated in the year 2019.
– Parliament Address – June 2014 President Pranab Mukherjee
The need for sanitation is of utmost importance. Although the Central Government is providing resources within its means, the task of total sanitation cannot be achieved without the support of all. The Government intends to cover every household by total sanitation by the year 2019, the 150th year of the Birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi through Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
— Budget Speech – July 2014 — Honourable Minister Arun Jaitley
The Government of India has announced a new Swachh Bharat Mission, or Mission for a Sanitary India. The details of the Mission are currently under development. We recommend the following five principles:
1. Reducing open defecation is the top priority. Although there are many benefits of a cleaner India, it is open defecation which kills hundreds of thousands of children each year and limits the development of those who survive. Open defecation shall be the top priority of the Mission.
2. Central measurement of latrine use. Recognizing that any goal that is not measured is not achieved, the Swach Bharat Mission shall establish an independent, accountable mechanism of monitoring latrine use, not latrine construction.
3. Achieving latrine use requires promoting behaviour change. Information, education, and latrine use promotion shall be the cornerstones of any successful Mission to end open defecation. Officers shall not be asked how many latrines they constructed; instead, officers shall be held to account for what they did to change minds and behaviour and to promote latrine use.
4. Latrine use requires a ground staff. Rural sanitation teams at the block and district level require a new, dedicated staff responsible only for behaviour change and promotion of latrine use, not for latrine construction. Officers shall be rewarded for trying and learning from new ideas, whether they succeed or fail.
5. Learn from doing and learn from the best. The Government shall lead a programme of learning from successes, failures, and challenges of attempts to change behaviour and to promote latrine use. The Mission shall learn from the experiences of the Pulse Polio campaign, from leaders in the field of marketing, and from experts on rural sanitation behaviour.
Open defecation is a public health crisis in India. It takes the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in India each year, and stunts the children who survive. Widespread open defecation is a problem that is increasingly concentrated in India alone: over half of Indians defecate in the open, and more than half people in the world who defecate in the open live in India. Most people in other poor and middle income countries use latrines and toilets. To know more about the health consequences of open defecation, read our health research papers on the r.i.c.e. website.
Why is open defecation so widespread in India? The Sanitation Quality Use Access and Trends (SQUAT) survey set out to answer this question for rural ‘Hindi Heartland’ India. We interviewed people in 3,235 households in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar about where they defecate and what they think about it.
What we found may surprise you. We found that people have a very expensive idea of what constitutes a latrine, and do not build the kinds of simple latrines that save lives and reduce open defecation in other countries. 40% of households that have a working latrine have at least one person who regularly defecates in the open. Less than half of people who own a government latrine use it regularly. Half of people who defecate in the open say that they do so because it is pleasurable, comfortable and convenient.
The SQUAT survey sheds light on why years of government policy focused on latrine construction have done so little to reduce open defecation. Simply building toilets and latrines does not change people’s minds about using them. New policies must focus on creating demand for toilet and latrine use rather than building toilets that few people, other than the contractors who are paid to build them, actually want.
The findings of the SQUAT survey have relevant and immediate implications for policy. India needs a Latrine Use Revolution, publicly directed by the country’s top leaders and known to every rural Indian, to end open defecation. This requires a massive media campaign designed by India’s best marketing experts, along with new district- and block-level staff dedicated only to promoting latrine use.
Much as India defeated polio just months ago – thanks to the hard work and dedication of government, national and international organizations, frontline workers and supervisors, and even celebrities and cricketers – we must all rise to the task of eliminating open defecation.