new article: on unused toilets in India (why do some rural people prefer open defecation even if toilets are available)
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TOPIC: new article: on unused toilets in India (why do some rural people prefer open defecation even if toilets are available)

Re: A toilet for every school says Indian Prime minister in Independence day speech 17 Aug 2014 08:38 #9772

  • lucasdengel
  • Physician (Dr. med.) by educational qualification, working in public hygiene, environmental health and organic farming for the last 15-20 years. Running a company called EcoPro, based in Auroville in Tamil Nadu, India - see website.
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[Page 4 of the discussion]

New in the news is the fact that the PM addresses the topic in such a public fashion. As for the rest? There are programs to build toilets in the country, there are funds. So, what will change after this message? Toilets will be built and toilets have been built and greatly benefited construction contractors and probably finance-handling administrators and middlemen and NGOs to make a living. However, as long as the message is "build toilets!" and as long as it is not clear to everybody involved that toilets are built with well-defined purposes in mind (such as use, appropriate use, and hygiene maintenance; and, avoiding exposure of stools to wind, flies, water, hands...; etc.), I do not see how the scenario will change.

Within the context of flush toilet technology, the "toilet" is the smallest and cheapest component, and the total sanitation technology is many times larger and more expensive than installing a toilet. The waste of public funds and the wasteful and irresponsible use of natural resources is likely to continue - with new vigour.

I have visited a school with three toilet blocks of which none was used or usable, while the headmaster asked for the fourth block to be built; have seen flush toilets that never had received water supply; have seen toilets where doors were so badly installed that doors & locks become dysfunctional within weeks - so much for privacy and safety for women; have seen toilet structures built so shoddily that they impressed even dalits as below their dignity to use; have seen toilets in new airports that are so messily maintained that they invite inappropriate use; have seen toilets built without settler and soak pit and with the drain pipe ready to discharge flushed feces in the open (luckily household owners did not use them which was regretted by the NGO that had implemented the construction)...

Lastly, in view of the democratic spread of corruption in the country, and in view of the seemingly main motivation for governmental employment - job security combined with options for misuse of public money - reported to me, I do not yet see signs of change. I shall welcome change when it comes.
Dr. Lucas Dengel
Aurosarjan Complex, Auroshilpam
Auroville - 605101, India
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Last Edit: 22 Aug 2014 04:04 by muench.
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Re: new article: on unused toilets in India (why do some rural people prefer open defecation even if toilets are available) 17 Aug 2014 11:40 #9775

  • Marijn Zandee
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Reading back through the thread again it seems maybe using some form of simplified sewerage with decentralized treatment would be culturally the best match. It would use water (which is considered ritually cleansing) and transport the faecal waste away from the house. It would probably be also the closest to people’s concept of modernity and progress. If simplified sewerage cannot be used using some form of water seal is probably a very good step. The Sulabh toilet in India does this, it would be nice to see some sustained usage data from their projects.

The simplified sewer solution would however be more expensive and water based, while large parts of India experience water scarcity already. But perhaps it is time to consider these kinds of systems for denser settlements on the basis that a medium cost solution that is used is still better value for money than pit latrines that nobody uses?

This is off coarse once again a technological fix, maybe better user engagement could also increase the popularity of pit latrines?

Another anecdote regarding people not wanting to use a new latrine.
The project in question was the first one in the area that used cement as a building material (only to create a cleanable floor). Thus some older people felt that using this most beautiful new room for something essentially dirty was not appropriate. This project did take more than a year for follow-up to deal with such issues, and in the end succeeded in convincing everyone to use the latrines built (which had a 50% user contribution also).


Marijn Zandee
Technical Advisor
Nepal Biogas Promotion Association (NBPA)

Deutsche Gesellschaft für
Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
Kathmandu, Nepal

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Re: new article: on unused toilets in India (why do some rural people prefer open defecation even if toilets are available) 18 Aug 2014 08:57 #9785

  • Bobbie
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This thread has been helpful to me; we are just starting a project in South Africa looking at attitudes, behaviour and beliefs regarding open defecation, geophagia (soil eating), helminths and the links between the three.

I've noticed that some of the literature (eg. reports from some of the big international health organisations) are misleading and sometimes inaccurate in that they equate the provision of sanitation with being "open defecation free". So I think the zone where open defecation continues to happen in the presence of sanitation systems is really important to bring to light, although the reasons may vary enormously from one place to another.

In South Africa it appears (from limited interviews and anecdotal evidence) that open defecation by preschoolers is widely accepted and even encouraged because parents fear their child falling into the pit through the toilet seat (the VIP being the most common form of basic sanitation rolled out by the government). For kids still in nappies, the trend even among very poor people to use disposal nappies may also encourage parents to let their baby go bare bummed and defecate outside whenever possible to reduce the number of nappies used.

Here too we have found families, even when offered a pour flush toilet, sometimes choosing to build the toilet away from the house, despite the greater safety and convenience that an inside toilet provides. I think as others have mentioned this has to do with a tradition of toilets, animals etc being dirty, outdoor parts of life that shouldn't come inside. On the one hand with an abundance of chicken, cow and dog shit scattered around the yard their is less sensitivity to the presence of human shit in the outdoor environment, on the other hand, there is a feeling that all of that belongs outside of the house. Because an indoor flush toilet is also seen as a status symbol these two views are in tension and one family might choose to put the toilet inside and the next to put it outside. We have also found some families which were forced to accept an indoor toilet (in government housing schemes where low flush toilets were provided inside the houses)don't like having the toilet inside; some have gone as far as to build a latrine outside. In addition to the reasons given above, I think that even in the case of a flush toilet smells and sounds are produced by toilet users which may not be noticeable in a big house where the toilet is located down the passage from the main living area but can be embarrassing and unpleasant if the house is small and the toilet is located directly off of the living room or kitchen. Cultural issues around gender or age (ie. who is hearing whose bodily functions)could intensify discomfort around using an indoor toilet (it could also be harder to manage menstruation with an indoor toilet where access to the toilet may be in full view of everyone in the main living area. It seems that for these situations it may be an acceptable compromise to build the toilet attached to the house but with a separate entrance, balancing issues of safety and convenience against privacy and "purity" of the house.

A spiral superstructure design has been used for some toilets in South Africa, which eliminates the need for a door, and this may be more comfortable for users used to open defecation such as the one quoted in the article who don't like the feeling of being shut in; however there is no knowing who or what might be waiting for you inside when you enter the spiral opening, which could be a safety concern.

I will keep you posted regarding the behaviours and perspectives that come to light in our study.


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Re: new article: on unused toilets in India (why do some rural people prefer open defecation even if toilets are available) 18 Aug 2014 10:23 #9787

  • JKMakowka
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Maybe us development and public health practitioners have to realize that we are also dealing with a "lost generation", i.e. no matter the effort in so called behaviour change interventions, the generations that have been practising OD for decades will probably not stop doing it.

I think it is vital to have the facilities and get the younger generations start to appreciate the various advantages. Of course this isn't going to have a huge health impact in the short run (with so many still practising open defecation) but it hopefully will in the generations to come.
Krischan Makowka
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller
Last Edit: 18 Aug 2014 10:36 by JKMakowka.

Re: new article: on unused toilets in India (why do some rural people prefer open defecation even if toilets are available) 18 Aug 2014 11:44 #9789

  • joeturner
  • I am a shit philosopher, thinking about how we think about sanitation. I think our main paradigms in WASH may be wrong.
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Someone recently said to me that the problem is that there is *too much* focus on faecal management and too little on access to clean water.

I do not agree, as unsafe defecation has implications beyond direct contamination of drinking water.

But I wonder if users are being given the message too often that the provision of clean water is of most importance, perhaps reinforced by the relative investment priorities of NGOs and governments in water vs faecal management schemes. Thoughts?
I don't work for anyone, I am a philosopher interested to think about how we think about WASH and sanitation. All thoughts are mine alone, I am responsible for any errors.

Previously trained and worked as a Soil Scientist and worked on projects composting sewage sludge.

Re: new article: on unused toilets in India 10 Sep 2014 10:36 #10099

  • evansitayi
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True that. The factors are multi-faceted and so should be the solutions.
Any meaningful attempt should responds to institutional, technical and social gaps. From my opinion, the most important aspect of any sanitation action is to understand the obstacles clearly and this should involve the potential beneficiaries. Rarely do we have universal solutions, every situation calls for an individual solution.

Re: new article: on unused toilets in India 20 Sep 2014 11:17 #10248

  • sjoerdnienhuys
  • Technical advisor on low-cost sanitation, worked for Aga Khan in the Himalayas, PUM in Asia,/Afica and Latin America, SNV in Nepal, DGIS in Latin America UNhabitat in Africa, and Waste /Gouda in India on ECO sanitation and biogas
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In India (Tamilnadu) Sri Lanka and Nepal, I came across the following aspects of not using the pour-flush or other toilet, and OD nearby in the grass or bush.
A. Men and women do not want to use the same toilet (for whatever reasons). This means that when a house only has one latrine, half the members use the bush, usulally the women.
For development organisations to provide two toilets for one house is often considered too expensive. Interestingly, when aid organisations built toilets in refugee camps, strict separation between male and female toilets is made and all people use them. The refugee camp use is probably because there is no bush at all.
B. Some aid organisations provided low-cost toilets which were cheaply finished with cement plaster floors and lower walls. These will become soiled after a while, and urine penetrates into the lower quality cement finishing. Hence the place starts smelling bad and is abandoned.
C. People are aware of good quality spacious toilets having ceramic pans and tiled floors and lower walls. These can be kept properly clean and are nearly always used by households that do not allow others to share their toilets. When aid organisations or governments provide cement finish toilets of narrow spacing (underess-dress)the recipients do not want to use them in protest.
D. For several households using the same toilets, there must be a very clear agreement on who keeps the place clean. Richer families or Brahmans do not like to take that cleaning task or burden, but they also do not want to pay for the services. Availability of cleaning water (anal and toilet) is essential; who brings the water?, Where it is stored? In SE Asia and Indonesia often a waterbasin is located in the more spacier toilet area, facilitating cleaning both ways.
E. Some villagers did not want the toilet as part of the house. Inevitably it was to be build in the farest corner of the property. In many cases there was just no room.

Just building a singel low-cost cemented toilet for one family, a crampy latrine without water services for cleaning and handwashing is not going to improve the situation. Villagers who build their own tiled toilet are definately using them. Sometimes these are even becoming part of the house.
Sjoerd from The Netherlands.
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Article in The Hindu newspaper: The link between sanitation and schooling (India) 22 Sep 2014 11:34 #10256

  • lucasdengel
  • Physician (Dr. med.) by educational qualification, working in public hygiene, environmental health and organic farming for the last 15-20 years. Running a company called EcoPro, based in Auroville in Tamil Nadu, India - see website.
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Below find an interesting link to an article called The link between sanitation and schooling in an Indian daily newspaper. The author Kiran Bhatty highlights several essential facts and factors of sanitation that generally are forgotten or rather readily neglected due to their uncomfortable reflections on the Indian society. Construction of toilets is the easiest of the tasks. Connecting (flush) toilets to water supply seems already much more difficult. Education in toilet use - potty training - seems to be a huge challenge. And maintenance of toilets becomes an insurmountable objective.

When it comes to work with waste and sewage, the society's conditioning into classes resp. castes seems to be as fossilized as ever; no Mahatma or Ambedkar, no amount of Scheduled Cast (SC) quota nor any change in terminology from outcast to harijan to dalit to SC seems to have changed that. And the educated and prosperous of India must be made to recognize this, in particular if sanitation is claimed to be taken up seriously.

Mrs. Kiran Bhatty, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, is a rare voice in publications on sanitation.

Link to the article (and comments on the article):

I cope the article below in case the link doesn't work anymore:


Published: September 19, 2014 01:32 IST | Updated: September 19, 2014 01:32 IST

The link between sanitation and schooling

The revival of the issue of toilets in schools has brought to the fore a discussion that has for long existed among educationists, with varying positions occupying centre stage at different times. A couple of decades ago, when the deplorable state of education began to be noticed, the importance of toilets was highlighted, and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) — the government’s flagship programme for universalisation of elementary education — included a specific provision for separate toilets for girls and boys. But soon after, a shift in focus to learning outcomes made toilets a dirty word as far as education was concerned, so much so that the emphasis on infrastructure, and toilets in particular, was held almost responsible for taking attention away from “learning.” Arguments were made that no correlation could be found between the presence of toilets and learning levels of children in school; therefore toilets were an unnecessary expense. Others claimed that since most poor rural children did not have toilets at home, they would not miss them in school either. What they needed was education, not toilets. The lack of sanitary habits among people who are not used to toilets and the issue of who would keep the toilets clean have also been part of the ongoing debate.

The need for functional toilets

So, where do we stand on these issues today and what can we expect from the Human Resource Development Ministry as it tries to fulfil Narendra Modi’s promises made on Independence Day? Perhaps a good place to start is by looking at some facts related to the provisioning of toilets, their use and cleanliness, and where the responsibility for the availability and functioning of toilets lies.

As mandated by the Right to Education Act, all children are required to spend six hours in school every day. During this period they would want to use the toilets. Irrespective of how and where they relieve themselves when at home, if the school does not have a functional toilet, they will need to go outside the school for their “bio-breaks.” The reality is that if they do leave the school, they are unlikely to return. Or if they are not allowed to leave, which is often the case for fear of the outcome mentioned above, they could end up soiling their clothes, for which they are likely to be penalised. A quick look at the complaints received by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (during 2010-2011, for instance) reveals that many complaints of corporal punishment were made because of this reason. Corporal punishment, like lack of toilets for girls, is a reason for dropouts.

In addition to all children needing toilets in schools, the teachers also need them. They are required to spend even longer hours in school to complete non-teaching work as well as prepare for classes. The lack of adequate toilets often necessitates the locking of toilets by teachers for their exclusive use. Among poor working conditions for teachers in schools, the lack of toilets is one, and probably contributes to teachers’ less than desired rate of attendance.
Despite the Act specifying separate toilets for boys and girls in each school, data from the District Information System for Education, 2013, shows that 10 per cent of elementary schools (nearly 2 lakh schools) still do not have functional toilets. In fact, in 2004, a civil writ petition (No (S) 631) was filed against the Delhi administration for the lack of toilets in schools, which resulted in the Supreme Court asking each State to submit affidavits on the status of toilets in their respective States. In early 2012, 18 State governments told the apex court in written affidavits signed by the highest-ranking bureaucrat in each of these States that they had met the requirement for toilets in accordance with RTE norms, or would do so by March 2012. In addition to the fact that this does not square up with the official data, if these 18 States have indeed met the norms as submitted in court, does it mean we can expect no further action on toilets in their jurisdictions?

There is, in fact, a great deal of ambiguity on whose responsibility it is to ensure functional toilets with adequate water facility in schools. Is it the HRD Ministry or the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) or the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) or all three?
The SSA has a provision for construction of toilets which ranges from Rs. 50,000 per toilet (Himachal Pradesh) to Rs. 70,000 per toilet (Jharkhand). The provision of sanitation facilities, however, is the responsibility of the MDWS. As a result, one finds a peculiar situation where scores of schools have constructed toilets — but without sanitation facilities or water supply. Their use, if at all, is naturally limited. What is not clear is who is responsible for ensuring convergence between these Ministries.

Minister for Rural Development and Drinking Water and Sanitation Nitin Gadkari recently announced that toilets would be delinked from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. He announced that the amount allocated for the construction of individual toilets would be increased from Rs.10,000 to Rs. 15,000, for school toilets from Rs. 35,000 to Rs. 54,000, apart from an increase in the amount for construction of anganwadi toilets and community toilets. Does this mean these toilets will be provided water supply too? At the end of the day, if functional toilets do not exist in any given school, who will be held to account?

Keeping toilets clean

Finally, there is the issue of keeping toilets clean. At present there is no provision in SSA for the cleaning of toilets. In fact, during a review of the SSA framework a couple of years ago, this issue was raised and hotly debated. But it was decided that in the interest of educating children about hygiene and sanitation, no other provision should be made. Instead, the children and teachers should be encouraged to keep the toilets clean. The reality, as we all know, is that teachers do not involve themselves in this enterprise. As a result, the toilets are either cleaned or not cleaned by children — or more precisely, they are cleaned by Dalit children because they can be coerced into doing what other children will refuse to do. If a clean and hygienic environment is to be provided, some children should not have to create it for others.

If Mr. Modi and the HRD Ministry are serious about toilets in schools, they will need to do a more comprehensive rethink of all that it involves. In addition to an adequate provision of funds cleaning, sanitation training, maintenance of toilets and other things, the issue of fixing accountability must be addressed. Else we will keep visiting the basic issues over and over again, reformulating strategies and recommissioning funds.

(Kiran Bhatty is senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)

Keywords: Toilets in school, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, child rights, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights

© The Hindu


Dr. Lucas Dengel
Aurosarjan Complex, Auroshilpam
Auroville - 605101, India
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Last Edit: 22 Sep 2014 09:44 by muench.
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