The country has the largest number of people defecating in the open

With as many as 597 million people practising open defecation, India still has the largest number of people defecating in open in the world, according to a new UN report.

The report — Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation (2014 update) — released on Friday says 82 per cent of the one billion people practising open defection in the world live in just 10 countries.

Worse, despite having some of the highest numbers of open defecators, India does not feature among the countries making great strides in reducing open defecation, the report jointly prepared by the WHO and the UNICEF says.

In contrast, India’s immediate neighbour Bangladesh and Vietnam, are among the top 10 countries that have achieved the highest reduction in open defecation since 1990. Vietnam, Bangladesh and Peru have reduced open defecation prevalence to single digits, according to the report.

According to the UN, countries where open defecation is most widely practised have the highest number of deaths of children under the age of five, as well as high levels of under-nutrition, high levels of poverty and large disparities between the rich and poor.

There are also strong gender impacts: lack of safe, private toilets makes women and girls vulnerable to violence and is an impediment to girls’ education, it says.

Since 1990, almost two billion people globally have gained access to improved sanitation, and 2.3 billion have gained access to drinking water from improved sources. Some 1.6 billion of these people have piped water connections in their homes or compounds.

More than half of the global population lives in cities, and urban areas are still better supplied with improved water and sanitation than rural ones. But, the gap is decreasing. In 1990, more than 76 per cent people living in urban areas had access to improved sanitation as opposed to only 28 per cent in rural ones. By 2012, 80 per cent urban dwellers and 47 per cent rural ones had access to better sanitation.

In 1990, 95 per cent people in urban areas could drink improved water, compared with 62 per cent people in rural ones. By 2012, 96 per cent people living in towns and 82 per cent of those in rural areas had access to improved water.

Poor sanitation and contaminated water are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid. In addition, inadequate or absent water and sanitation services in health care facilities put already vulnerable patients at additional risk of infection and disease.

The report presents estimates for 1990-2012 and is based on data from nationally representative household surveys and censuses for the same period.

It reveals that by 2012, 116 countries had met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for drinking water, 77 had met the MDG target for sanitation and 56 countries had met both targets. MDG 7.C aims to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

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