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Reviving the Battle Against Open Defecation in India

Open Defecation in India Upsc

Recent data from the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme paints a concerning picture: approximately one-sixth of India’s rural population still practices open defecation, while a staggering quarter lacks basic sanitation facilities.

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Monitoring Progress:

The latest report indicates that in 2022:

  • 17% of India’s rural populace still resorts to open defecation.
  • A quarter of the rural population lacks basic sanitation facilities, signaling a persistent challenge despite progress.

Open Defecation Free (ODF) Initiative:

In 2019, India celebrated a significant milestone by being declared ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF) under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen), marking a pivotal moment in the global sanitation realm.

  • Through this initiative, over 600 million people gained access to toilets, with more than 110 million toilets constructed within a span of 60 months, substantially altering the global sanitation landscape.

Reality Check:

However, the recent data raises questions about India’s claimed ODF status:

  • Post-2019, India’s focus shifted to sustaining its ODF status and promoting advanced sanitation practices under ODF-Plus.
  • It’s noteworthy that the government did not officially declare India ODF; instead, villages self-certified, leading to the nation’s declaration.

Revisiting the Approach:

The current challenge lies in re-evaluating the metrics used for certifying ODF status. While the emphasis was on constructing sanitation facilities, quantifying behavioral changes—such as the actual utilization of toilets—remains unaddressed.

Looking Ahead:

The persistence of open defecation poses substantial public health risks, warranting a reassessment of ODF milestones. A recalibration of strategies might involve a shift from infrastructure-focused targets to behavioral transformation and comprehensive sanitation practices, ensuring that the impact aligns with the intended goal of eradicating open defecation.

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