India’s Shameful Story: Defecating In The Open
Thank you Jason Gale (of Bloomberg) for your important story “India Failing to Control Open Defecation Blunts Nation’s Growth”. India has enough strength to withstand the periodical attacks by terrorists. But its Achilles heel could very well be the lack of proper sewerage facilities/hygiene in overcrowded cities and small towns.
Ironically, in the Indian subcontinent, the cradle of over 5000-year-old Indus Valley Civilization, archaeological findings reveal that while planning their cities, the old inhabitants ensured the best of sewerage facilities and hygiene.
This state of affairs (maybe in a somewhat primitive form) continued right up to the end of the colonial era in 1947. Freedom was welcome…but India also witnessed the collapse of controlled town and country planning. As the power started accumulating at the federal headquarters in Delhi, and the capital cities of the States, the independence and the majesty of small towns and villages was undermined.
It is true that the delightful diversity of the country and the complex nature of running India (which Prof John Kenneth Galbraith once famously described as a “functioning anarchy”) presents numerous challenges.
Reports Jason Gale: “In the shadow of its new suburbs, torrid growth and 300- million-plus-strong middle class, India is struggling with a sanitation emergency. Everyone in Indian cities is at risk of consuming human feces, if they’re not already, the Ministry of Urban Development concluded in September.
“Sanitation and hygiene-related issues may have…impact on India’s $1.2 trillion economy, says Guy Hutton, a senior water and sanitation economist with the program in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Snarled transportation and unreliable power further damp the nation’s growth. Companies that locate in India pay hardship wages and ensconce employees in self- sufficient compounds.
“The toll on human health is grim. Every day, 1,000 children younger than 5 years old die in India from diarrhea, hepatitis- causing pathogens and other sanitation-related diseases, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“For girls, the crisis is especially acute: Many drop out of school once they reach puberty because of inadequate lavatories, depriving the country of a generation of possible leaders.
“ ‘India cannot reach its full economic potential unless they do something about this sanitation crisis,’ says Clarissa Brocklehurst, Unicef’s New York-based chief of water, sanitation and hygiene, who worked in New Delhi from 1999 to 2001.
“India’s gated office parks with swimming pools and food courts and enclaves such as the Aralias in Gurgaon, outside New Delhi, which features 6,000-square-foot (557-square-meter) condominiums, mask a breakdown of the most basic and symbolic human need — hygiene.” More here…
Meanwhile Sikkim, the second smallest state of India, was recently declared a ‘Nirmal State’ for being completely free of open defecation. It was honoured with a gold medal by Indian President Pratibha Patil for setting an example for others states to follow.
Although it is India’s least populous state, Sikkim’s achievement is being hailed as a major step forward in a country [where] over half-a-billion Indians do not have a toilet. Indeed, the country needs to build 78 new toilets every minute over the next four years to meet the government’s ambitious sanitation target under the Nirmal Gram Yojana or Total Sanitation Campaign .