ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revisiting Open Defecation

Evidence from a Panel Survey in Rural North India, 2014–18

Since October 2014, the Government of India has worked towards the goal of eliminating open defecation by 2019 through the Swachh Bharat Mission. In June 2014, the results of a survey of rural sanitation behaviour in North India were first reported. The results from a late 2018 survey that revisited households from the 2014 survey in four states—Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh—are presented. Although rural latrine ownership increased considerably over this period, open defecation remains very common in these four states. There is substantial heterogeneity across states in what the sbm did and how. These outcomes suggest the need for a transparent, fact-based public dialogue about the sbm, its costs and benefits, and its accomplishments and means.

The authors thank the reviewer for helping improve the paper, and Shilpa Bagde, Kailash Kumar, Amit Kumar, Laxmi Saini, and Poonam Saini for their help in conducting the fieldwork.

Since October 2014, the Government of India (GOI) has worked towards the goal of eliminating open defecation by 2019 through the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). By December 2018, 27 states had been declared open defecation free (ODF). In 2014, several of the co-authors reported on a survey of rural sanitation behaviour in North India (Coffey et al 2014) conducted by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e.). Here, we report results from a late 2018 survey that revisited households from the 2014 survey in four states, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Although rural latrine ownership increased considerably over this period, open defecation remains very common in these four states. Different statistical methods produce slightly different numbers, but results from a wide range of approaches used concur that approximately 40% to 50% of rural people in these states defecated in the open in late 2018. This has reduced significantly from about 70% of rural people in the 2014 survey. Much of the reduction in open defecation is driven by new latrine construction; nearly six in 10 households that did not own a latrine in 2014 acquired one by the 2018 survey. However, the fraction of people who own a latrine, but who nevertheless defecate in the open, did not change between 2014 and 2018; it was about 23% in both years.

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Published On : 13th Jan, 2024

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