News / Asia

    Millions Shun India's Innovations in Solving Sanitation Problems

    FILE - Indian men attend to their morning chores next to a sewage canal before they leave for work early morning in New Delhi, India, Dec. 12, 2014.
    FILE - Indian men attend to their morning chores next to a sewage canal before they leave for work early morning in New Delhi, India, Dec. 12, 2014.
    Anjana Pasricha

    In Geeta Colony, a crowded slum in the Indian capital, 45-year-old Meena Devi said she would rather walk into open areas in the vicinity of her tiny home for defecation than wait in snaking lines at the “filthy” community toilets. “The toilets are in terrible condition, there is no sewer system. Then they shut the doors at night,” she said.
     
    Across Indian villages and towns, the government has accelerated a drive to build millions of toilets as it makes ending open defecation by an estimated 600 million people a rallying cry. Some 9 million toilets have been built since the campaign was launched a little over a year ago. 

    Shifting Social Norms

    But sanitation experts say the campaign is faltering as many of the latrines lie unused. It is not just community toilets in festering urban slums that have discouraged people like Meena Devi from changing old habits. Tens of thousands of independent latrines built for village households are also shunned – mostly due to age-old cultural resistance to using them. 

    FILE - A temporary toilet made by farmers for their use is seen near the River Yamuna in New Delhi, India, Nov. 19, 2015.
    FILE - A temporary toilet made by farmers for their use is seen near the River Yamuna in New Delhi, India, Nov. 19, 2015.

    Renu Khosla at the Center for Regional and Urban Excellence (CURE), which works on sanitation issues in urban slums, said one of the major stumbling blocks in persuading people to use latrines is the type of toilets being built. Most of them use what is called a “single-pit technology.” “Now the pits fill up and pits need to be flushed out and when they are desludged, it costs money. So what happens is that people are reluctant to use. Household toilets, whether in villages or urban areas, the cost of cleaning up the pit is one major deterrent for use,” explained Khosla.

    Most people in this slum in East Delhi continue with the practice of open defecation because of long waiting lines at the community toilet.Most people in this slum in East Delhi continue with the practice of open defecation because of long waiting lines at the community toilet.
    x
    Most people in this slum in East Delhi continue with the practice of open defecation because of long waiting lines at the community toilet.
    Most people in this slum in East Delhi continue with the practice of open defecation because of long waiting lines at the community toilet.

    On the other hand she said, people see many advantages in open defecation. “There is no waiting time involved, you can do at your own free will or whenever it is convenient.” 
     
    Notions of purity

    The government has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the risks of open defecation, which the World Health Organization say exposes people to diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, and worm infection. Catchy advertisements on television urge rural women to shun marrying into homes without toilets, underline the health benefits and highlight how they improve security for women, who usually venture out into fields under the cover of darkness. 

    FILE - 60 year old manual scavenger Kela carrying a basket of human excrement her head after cleaning toilets in Nekpur village, Muradnagar in Uttar Pradesh, some 40 kms east of New Delhi, August 10, 2012.
    FILE - 60 year old manual scavenger Kela carrying a basket of human excrement her head after cleaning toilets in Nekpur village, Muradnagar in Uttar Pradesh, some 40 kms east of New Delhi, August 10, 2012.

    But sanitation experts say the message is not going home because it fails to address one of the fundamental reasons for people’s reluctance in using latrines in the country’s rural heartland – India’s centuries-old caste system and notions of purity.
     
    Sangita Vyas, who heads the New Delhi-based Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), said although the toilets being built have been successful in many developing countries such as Bangladesh, they are failing to win acceptance in India because the pits have to be emptied manually. That task carries a deep stigma in a country where clearing away human waste was traditionally done by lower castes. 
     
    “So anyone from the middle or upper castes would consider it to be completely inconceivable to manually empty the latrine pit. And at the same time, people who have historically been tasked with handling feces, manual scavengers, they also are understandably seeking to avoid this kind of work because it is associated with past and continuing oppression,” said Vyas.
     
    Many in villages among the higher castes also spurn latrines inside the house because they believe the presence of the toilet would make it an impure place to do “pooja” or worship God. 
     
    Success stories have been notched in areas where the toilets built do not have pits which have to be manually emptied. 
     
    Connecting to a sewer system

    Poonam Sode's tiny, newly constructed latrine connected to a sewer line in a crowded slum in East Delhi has ended long waits at a community toilet and visits to a nearby open area.Poonam Sode's tiny, newly constructed latrine connected to a sewer line in a crowded slum in East Delhi has ended long waits at a community toilet and visits to a nearby open area.
    x
    Poonam Sode's tiny, newly constructed latrine connected to a sewer line in a crowded slum in East Delhi has ended long waits at a community toilet and visits to a nearby open area.
    Poonam Sode's tiny, newly constructed latrine connected to a sewer line in a crowded slum in East Delhi has ended long waits at a community toilet and visits to a nearby open area.

    In the same slum in the east part of New Delhi where Meena Devi often ventures into open fields, development agency CURE helped 60 households build tiny toilets that are now connected to a sewer line. The results have been dramatic. 

    Poonam Sode proudly shows off a tiny latrine built in her home four months ago. It has put an end to a tortuous wait at the community toilet or a late-night visit to the fields. “I don’t have to go out of the house now. Earlier I had to wait till midnight to go into the fields to make sure there were no people around," said the delighted mother of three.
     
    Other families in the slum are now clamoring for toilets connected to a sewer. 

    A report released by WaterAid on the occasion of World Toilet Day last November said that if all people without toilets in India stood in line, they would stretch from the Earth to the Moon. 
     

    FILE - An open toilet is seen in a field in Gorba in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh, India, Nov. 16, 2015.
    FILE - An open toilet is seen in a field in Gorba in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh, India, Nov. 16, 2015.


    While the government has won praise for drawing up goals to build enough toilets to end that line by 2019, Khosla at CURE said it will only happen if more stress is laid on simple engineering solutions. “It is important for us to make the connection, it is important for us to recognize that it’s not just about putting the superstructure for a toilet, it’s also about the sewage management. That’s critical as well.” 

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora