The acute shortage of toilets across the country has come to the fore again with the gang-rape and murder of two teenage Dalit girls in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh who went missing on the night of May 27th after they went to relieve themselves in the open because they did not have access to a toilet at home.
The lack of toilets impacts the safety of women and this had been highlighted by Amnesty International (India) when it had noted that “besides being a health hazard the lack of adequate sanitation facilities across India also poses a serious threat to the safety of women and girls forced to practice open defecation, making them more vulnerable to violence.”
The lack of adequate toilet facilities had earlier been termed a major health hazard by the World Health Organisation (WHO) while the World Bank had identified it as one of the major contributors to malnutrition in India.
More than 600 million people – over half of India’s population – defecate in the open, noted a World Bank report, worse not one State in the country is free of Open Defecation (OD), it had said.
While the WHO has estimated that at any given moment, half of the developing world’s populace suffer from diseases associated with contaminated water and bad sanitation, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak of non government organisation Sulabh International, who has long worked on the subject, believes the situation is far worse in India. “The Central Government claims that currently there is a shortfall of 43 per cent toilet access to general public. However, the truth is that only 30 per cent of the Indian population have access to safe and clean toilets,” he said.
Adding that the lack of toilets poses a serious health hazard, he added: “States including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are among the worst offenders, though there is no State – including the Capital – where everyone has access to toilets.”’
The 2011 Census of India provides some startling results: Nearly 12 per cent of urban households resort to OD and another 8 per cent use public or shared toilet facilities. The situation is far worse in smaller cities (population below 100,000), with OD rates around 22 per cent.
Though significantly less prevalent than in rural India, OD in urban settings poses more serious challenges. With higher population densities and lack of safe spaces, OD affords little dignity and poses grave security risks for women.
Meanwhile, a World Bank working paper released earlier found that children exposed to more faecal germs don’t grow as tall as children with less exposure. Studies have shown physical height is an important economic variable reflecting health and human capital.