Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More mobile phones than toilets in India

India has more mobile phones than toilets. Half of India's population has a mobile phone while only a third has access to a toilet.

There are a few challenges standing in the way of providing access to sanitation for all of India. First and foremost is just that old habits die hard, and it's hard to convince people that sanitation is better for their own and India's health.

From the Global Post, writer Saritha Rai gives us more reasons why a necessity is in short supply in India.

On the one hand, India has some 565 million mobile phone connections, covering roughly half the country’s 1.2 billion people. It is a country whose tech-savvy workforce provides sophisticated tech know-how to the rest of the globe.

But only 366 million people, a third of its population, have the use of a proper toilet, according to a recent study by the United Nations. The rest defecate in the open, leading to the stereotype that India is a dirty, smelly country.

The tragic irony brings to the fore the sanitation challenges in a poor country. Borrowed Western sanitation ideas, power- and resource-intensive as they are, simply cannot be replicated in India, says Sunita Nadhamuni, CEO of Bangalore-based non-profit Arghyam, which works extensively in water and sanitation.

So, government agencies as well as NGOs are looking towards context-sensitive models where energy and water usage is low, and waste disposal simplified. “Expensive waste water treatment plants and centralized sewage systems are not for a country like ours,” said Nadhamuni. Arghyam supports several eco-friendly sanitation projects across the country.

In many parts of rural India, a toilet is not just about the infrastructure but about age-old traditions. “It is not ‘build-and-they-will-come,’” said Y.D. Mathur, the Lucknow-based advisor to India’s leading sanitation NGO, Sulabh International. Mathur, a former UNICEF official, says the biggest challenge is bringing about behavior change in rural communities. A poverty-stricken family would rather build a house or a shop and rent it out rather than have a toilet. And then they would continue going out to the fields for their daily rituals.

In many villages, government-funded toilets lie in various states of disuse. Officials admit that half the toilets built under government schemes or incentives may be in a state of disrepair. Many of them are low-cost constructions, dark and dingy and poorly maintained. As surveys reveal, many users have the burden of fetching their own water so, shortly after the toilet is constructed, it is declared un-usable.

The linkages between good sanitation, improved public health and economic growth are long-proven. But government agencies and NGOs are confounded by how to help India's vast, illiterate masses make those same connections.

1 comment:

Rolly Chowdhury said...

The year 2010 presents a crucial moment to assess the ground covered over the last decade and the distance that remains to be traversed over the next five years. In fact, that is just what the United Nations General Assembly will do when it meets this September. How well is India placed to catch the MDGs bus? The Government of India has just done its own assessment http://bit.ly/9XYkyQ