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Effects of India’s Poor Sanitation

Poor sanitation can sometimes be the initial domino that starts a cascading wave of other problems. In the case of India, poor sanitation and open defecation have allowed for an overwhelmingly unhygienic environment and a variety of widespread health problems.

In India, there are more people who openly defecate on a regular basis than live in the entirety of Africa. Out of the 1.2 billion inhabitants, 103 million lack safe drinking water and 802 million lack any sanitation services.

For starters, combining an unhygienic environment with a high population density creates a breeding ground for preventable disease epidemics. Two common hygiene-related diseases, typhoid and diarrhea, prevent their victims from absorbing necessary nutrients which leads to malnutrition. India has higher rates of malnutrition in children than Sub-Saharan Africa.

The effect of having proper hygienic practices is shown when comparing the states within India. States where 80 percent or more of the rural population can access toilets have much lower levels of childhood malnutrition than cities where open defecation is commonly practiced.

Not only are there health consequences to open defecation, but social safety consequences as well. When women and children have to relieve themselves, they are forced to venture into the streets rather than using a toilet in the safety of their own home, which compromises their safety. A senior police officer in Bihar stated that about 400 women would have avoided rape last year if they had toilets in their homes.

The root of the problem is the lack of available or accessible toilets to the general population. Unfortunately, use of the toilets found in developed countries would be impractical and nearly impossible to achieve in India. A waste disposal system would need to be put into place, and toilets like these require large amounts of water, which is rarely consistent in developing countries.

While India is not known for being wealthy, the country ranks fourth in the world for manufacturing competitiveness. With many citizens capable of designing and manufacturing innovative solutions, the possibility of a low-cost toilet is promising.

One type of toilet that could potentially work well with India is the composting toilet, which is a toilet that is used for about a year, and subsequently sealed for 6-9 months, where the heat and decomposition of the feces kills off harmful bacteria and creates rich fertilizer that can be used in gardens.

While India’s poor sanitation has deep-rooted negative effects, the country has the innovative capacity to find an efficient and widespread solution.

– Courtney Prentice


Sources: Live Mint and The Wall Street Journal, British Broadcasting Corporation, The Child Fund, Water
Photo: OMICK