By Prakhar Jain (email) and Aditya Bhol
The run-up to elect a new government brought sanitation to the fore of public conversation in India. Last month, Prime Minister Modi declared sanitation as a national priority, announcing ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, a sanitation programme dedicated to creating clean India by 2019 as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Whether or not this plan succeeds may depend on whether it is simply a repackaged programme such as the ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’ that was focused entirely on building toilets in rural India, or a renewed commitment to improve sanitation in both the rural and urban areas. As India urbanizes, demand for effective and sustainable sanitation services will increase. India, with 11% of the world’s urban population currently, accounts for 46% of global urban open defecation [i]. While other developing countries like China, Vietnam, and Peru have already achieved open defecation free (ODF) status in urban areas, India still lags behind. The situation is particularly abysmal in small cities (population below a million) where close to 17% of the population defecates in the open as compared to 4% in large cities (population greater than a million) [ii]. The 2011 national census has shown that these small cities represent more than 91% of total urban open defecation in the country. If we are to catch up, the key is to immediately turn our attention towards small and medium-sized cities.