UNICEF estimated that as many as 63.8 crore people practice open defecation due to inadequate sanitation

India accounts for 58 percent of those who practice open defecation across the globe.

In its finding for the year 2008, UNICEF estimated that as many as 63.8 crore people, that is, 54 percent of the country's population, practice open defecation due to inadequate sanitation.

On this ignominious list, Indonesia is a distant second with 5.7 crore people lacking toilet facilities, and it accounts for 5 percent of the hapless population which still are denied sanitation, with China following where 5.6 crore people have no other option.

On one count, Ethiopia's condition is worse than India's - 60 percent of its population are put to discomfiture against the 54 percent in India. Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka follow suit; but the fact remains they are still are better off than India in providing sanitation to their population.

“It is a matter of shame,” said Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation told The Hindu, resolving to wipe out the problem during the 12th Five Year Plan and make the country open defecation-free by 2017.

Economic impact

According to another report, the economic impact of inadequate sanitation costs India about Rs. 2.4 trillion or about 6.4 per of its gross domestic product. Diarrhoea alone claims four lakh lives annually, of which 90 percent are children.

But tragically enough, the annual central budget is just Rs. 2000 crore which is just about two percent of the entire budget for Rural Development which is close to Rs.1 lakh crore.

Only five states in India - Kerala, Sikkim, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra - are doing well in sanitation; others have a long way to go. Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 10 percent of population that suffers on account of inadequate sanitation.

Awareness campaign

Mr. Ramesh has written to the Planning Commission to at least raise the annual allocation to Rs. 10000 crore, and has written a letter to all the Chief Ministers to join the one month long Swachchata Utsav awareness campaign that he will launch on Gandhi Jayanthi - October 2- laying emphasis on adoption of safe sanitation practices.

The issue of open defecation will have to be taken up as a challenge, he said, as only 25000 villages have been declared as ‘nirmal grams' out of 6 lakh villages in the country and because it was the root cause for spreading public health problems.

Mr. Ramesh said that what was needed is a political and social movement to cope with the problem and it could not be just an administrative programme. The first and last man to spearhead the cause of hygiene and sanitation in the country was Mahatma Gandhi, he underlined.

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