India has made progress in reducing open defecation rates: UN

India among the 16 countries that have reduced open defecation rates by at least 25 percentage points.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:30 pm IST

Published - July 01, 2015 10:58 am IST - United Nations

Mobile public toilets seen in Chennai. Photo: A.Muralitharan

Mobile public toilets seen in Chennai. Photo: A.Muralitharan

India has made “moderate” progress in reducing open defecation rates among its population and has succeeded in providing access to improved drinking water to more people in urban and rural areas, according to a UN report.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report titled “Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment” released by the UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization said one in every three or 2.4 billion people on the planet are still without sanitation facilities, including 946 million people who defecate in the open.

It said India is among the 16 countries that have reduced open defecation rates by at least 25 percentage points.

In India’s case, there has been a reduction by 31 per cent in open defecation, a progress termed as “moderate” by the report.

“The Southern Asia region, where the number of open defecators is highest, has also made significant improvements. Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have all achieved reductions of more than 30 percentage points since 1990,” the report said.

“The 31 per cent reduction in open defecation in India alone represents 394 million people and significantly influences regional and global estimates,” it said.

The report, however, noted that in India, there has been very little change over the last 20 years in reducing open defecation among the poor.

The report further said that India has “met its target” of increasing use of drinking water resources to its population.

India was among the nine countries that succeeded in halving the proportion of the population without improved drinking water in both rural and urban areas.

The other countries are Belize, Egypt, Jordan, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Tunisia and Uganda.

From 71 per cent in 1990, India now has 94 per cent of its population with access to drinking water sources, the report said.

The report, however, warned that the lack of progress on sanitation globally threatens to undermine the child survival and health benefits from gains in access to safe drinking water.

“Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from water-borne and water-related diseases,” said Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

Access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene is critical in the prevention and care of 16 of the 17 ‘neglected tropical diseases’ (NTDs), including trachoma, soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms) and schistosomiasis.

NTDs affect more than 1.5 billion people in 149 countries, causing blindness, disfigurement, permanent disability and death.

The practice of open defecation is linked to a higher risk of stunting — or chronic malnutrition — which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage, according to WHO.

Plans for the proposed new sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be set by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 include a target to eliminate open defecation by 2030.

This would require a doubling of current rates of reduction, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, WHO and UNICEF say.

Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, said what the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress.

“The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away,” Mr. Wijesekera said.

Access to improved drinking water sources has been a major achievement for countries and the international community.

With some 2.6 billion people having gained access since 1990, 91 per cent of the global population now have improved drinking water — and the number is still growing.

Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people.

Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility — 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent.

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