Discovering sanitation realities through rural immersions. by Jamie Myers, CLTS, March 2017.
At the end of last year the CLTS Knowledge Hub heard that the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indore, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of Madhya Pradesh, were sending 630 of their first year management students to spend a week living in 157 open defecation free (ODF) villages.
The villages cut across 13 districts in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh. Students were asked to verify ODF status of villages through a household survey and early morning and evening inspections of open defecation sites. They were also tasked with collecting data on school and Anganwadi (child and mother care) centres sanitation and handwashing facilities.
The sheer number of people involved was impressive in itself as was the level of detail that could be collected in the length of time they were able to spend there. Furthermore, the fact that they would be staying overnight meant that they would be in the villages at the times when open defecation was most common, early in the morning and later in the evening. Needless to say we were excited to hear not only about their findings but also the process and methodology.
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Exploring “The Remote” and “The Rural”: Open Defecation and Latrine Use in Uttarakhand, India. World Development, January 2017. Authors: Kathleen O’Reilly, Richa Dhanju, Abhineety Goel.
- Remote places are different than rural places due to physical and social distance.
- Remoteness significantly contributes to practices of open defecation.
- Structural inequalities produce conditions that impede sanitation uptake.
- Addressing infrastructural causes of remoteness is key to reducing open defecation.
- Reducing multi-scalar, socio-spatial inequalities can lead to latrine adoption.
Open defecation is a major global health problem. The number of open defecators in India dwarfs that of other states, and most live in rural places. Open defecation is often approached as a problem scaled at the site of the individual, who makes a choice not to build and/or use a toilet.
Attempts to end rural open defecation by targeting individuals, like social marketing or behavior change approaches, often ignore the structural inequalities that shape rural residents’ everyday lives. Our study explores the question, “What is the role of remoteness in sustaining open defecation in rural India?” We deploy the concept of remoteness as an analytical tool that can capture everyday practices of open defecation as a function of physical and social distance.
Using ethnographic methods, we interviewed and observed 70 participants in four villages in Uttarakhand, India over a three-month period in 2013. We find that remoteness in general, and its lived nuances, form a context for prevalent open defecation. Structural inequalities across space will need to be addressed to make latrine building and usage viable in remote places.
Ending open defecation: The drive must go beyond mascots, jingles – even toilets. Scroll.In, January 3, 2017.
Image credit: NDMC handout
Even as Mumbai enlists the star power of Salman Khan to end open defecation and Delhi has its turbaned Swachh Sewak mascots patrolling the streets, whistling at and fining the guilty, the underlying lacunae that make people defecate in the open see little discussion and go almost completely unaddressed. A problem that should not take more than a year to be solved nationally, if addressed in mission mode, drags on through one scheme after the other.
The populist efforts are driven more by the aim of safeguarding the sensibilities of the privileged than out of a feeling of empathy for those who must go through the indignity of open defecation. A sincere desire to solve the problem is wanting. The Swachh Bharat Mission makes the right noises but lacks in empowering municipal officials adequately. Nice videos and musical jingles can only take you so far. The real difference comes from silent work carried out by a taskforce staffed with deeply committed and talented people.
In the urban context, especially, the issue becomes more complex. Land is scarce and has higher economic value, and urban planning and equitable housing policies have been neglected for a very long time. Open defecation arises from a neglect of these fundamental issues rather than just from the absence of adequate toilets. While we decide what we want to do with planning and governing our cities better, in the interim, it should not be difficult to construct a high number of high quality toilets, which become a natural attraction for those defecating in the open.
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