Factors affecting toilet adoption in rural India

India Water Portal
Saturday, November 22, 2014 - 10:30

Since the rebranding of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan to the Swach Bharat Mission, newspapers have been flooded with articles and discussions on the need to improve the sanitation scenario in India. Also contributing to this is the new and recently released Millennium Development Goals Report 2014 by the United Nations.

The report shows India's dismal sanitation situation with as high as 66% of its rural population defecating out in the open. This, despite years of government spending on latrine construction. The question "why is this so?", seems to leave a number of policy makers, planners, researchers and scientists perplexed.

Studies on factors affecting toilet adoption

A paper titled "Revealed Preference for Open Defecation: Evidence from a New Survey in Rural North India", by Diane Coffey et al published in the Economic and Political Weekly discusses the findings of a study that tries to answer this dilemma. This study collected information on the sanitation views and behaviour of people through a survey on sanitation quality, use, access and trends (SQUAT) from rural areas of Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Findings of the study

  • There is a strong preference for open defecation among a large number of rural households in these states, despite having a functional toilet. Also, the lack of water is not a constraint leading to poor use of latrines.
  • Latrines are considered as luxury items or expensive assets.
  • Open defecation is not recognised  as a threat to health.
  • Young women, and older men and women are the most likely to use an available latrine.  Middle-aged men, who typically make financial decisions in rural north Indian households are the least likely to use an available latrine.
  • Men are found to prefer open defecation as compared to women, who are more concerned with privacy issues.
  • There is a lack of demand for simple, affordable latrines. Concepts of purity and pollution hinder the use of inexpensive locally suitable latrine models.

The paper argues that rural India has a three-pronged challenge to overcome: very high population density, widespread open defecation and low demand for latrine use. Thus, just focusing on latrine construction is not enough to  reduce open defecation. Rather, it is more important to change the sanitation preferences and behaviour of the people, and promote latrine use to achieve the desired results in the long run.

Another paper titled, "The toilet tripod - Understanding successful sanitation in rural India", published in the journal Health and Place by Kathleen O' Reilly et al, discusses the findings of a research study conducted in two states of India namely, West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh. The paper attempts to identify the factors infuencing toilet adoption in India by taking a political ecology approach.

Findings of the study

The authors identify three factors that lead to successful toilet use in the community and compare these to the toilet tripod indicating the equal importance and connectivity between these factors on which the toilet use stands. They include:

  • Political will from the government as well as from the NGOs
  • Social pressure and day-to-day contacts and interactions between people that help in adoption of toilets
  • Ecological factors such as availability of water, type of soil and land use patterns.

The study demonstrates that like the tripod, all the three factors or the legs of the tripod act together in synergy and influence toilet use. The actual specifics of the three legs of the tripod can vary from location to location, but their success in determining toilet use remains the same.

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