Open Defecation: A Boon or Bane? (blessing or curse)

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  • F H Mughal
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Open Defecation: A Boon or Bane? (blessing or curse)

Open Defecation: A Boone or Bane?


It is known to all that open defecation (OD) causes many health, hygiene, nutritional, violence (for girls and women), and child growth problems, still OD is practiced widely in India, and to a lesser extent in Pakistan.

In Pakistan 22 per cent of the population practices OD. In India, it is whooping 70 per cent (rural population). Surprisingly, in Bangladesh, it is only 5 per cent.

Almost everyone consider OD to be a bad practice, and should be stopped. But what, if some people think otherwise??!!

A recent publication: Culture and the health transition: Understanding sanitation behavior in rural north India; authored by Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta, Payal Hathi, Dean Spears, Nikhil Srivastav, and Sangita Vyas - Working paper April 2015, IGC (available at:
www.theigc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/0...15-Working-Paper.pdf )
presents findings that many may find hard to believe!!

The following are the key facts from the paper:

• Poor sanitation spreads bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections including diarrhoea, polio, cholera, and hookworm. Despite this, 70% of rural Indian households defecate in the open, without a toilet or latrine. Over 60% of the people worldwide who defecate in the open live in India. Bangladesh, which shares a border with India, has a rural open defecation rate of only 5%.

• Based on a survey of around 3,200 households, and 100 in-depth interviews, this research finds that having a household latrine is widely seen to damage the purity of the home. Open defecation, on the other hand, is widely seen to promote purity and strength, and is also associated with health and longevity.

• A further reason for particularly poor hygiene in Indian public spaces is due to the ongoing renegotiation of caste-based social rules. Most Hindus remain inflexibly opposed to emptying their own latrine pits. As part of a push for greater equality, people from the lowest “untouchable” castes resist emptying latrine pits because this work is widely seen as degrading and reinforcing of their low social status.

According to the second fact: “this research finds that having a household latrine is widely seen to damage the purity of the home. Open defecation, on the other hand, is widely seen to promote purity and strength, and is also associated with health and longevity." Isn’t this is a unique, and hard-to-believe fact? How on earth are the household latrines damaging to the purity of the home; and how OD promotes purity and strength?

I don’t have an answer. Can anybody comment on this?

F H Mughal
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  • joeturner
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boone or Bane?

Well, interestingly F H Mughal someone said to me the other day that the problem was not Open Defecation itself, but the individuals who had infections which were spread by it. So, according to this idea, a relatively smaller number of people are the main sources of infection - so if the priority shifted away from complete eradication of OD and towards treatment of those people who were mostly passing on the infection then OD becomes less of a health problem. Personally I'm not very convinced by this idea, but then it is a challenging thought that we've all accepted OD is a "Bad Thing" and that the real problem is elsewhere.

As you say, and we discussed about another paper, cultural ideas might actually favour Open Defecation over, for example, poor quality shared latrines or even inside latrines.

I have wondered (possibly on this forum, I can't remember) if there is any way to provide good sanitation to people who actually like to defecate outdoors. Presumably part of the problem is with hygiene, so if it was possible to ensure that faeces was not walked back into the household and there were handwashing facilities, this would solve at least part of it. In terms of treatment, one would think there ought to be some way to safely collect and treat faeces which has been defecated outside.

Just thinking aloud, of course, there may be enormous practical problems with actually doing this.
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  • vishwanathdalvi
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boone or Bane?

Hi!

It is interesting that you brought this up. To get an idea of the thinking in our communities here is a quick joke:

A grandfather was telling his grandson how far they had come during the former's lifetime. "Grandson, how far we have progressed! When I was your age, we would eat in and defecate outdoors. Now, we eat out and defecate indoors."

But seriously, open-defecation is traditionally done in the fields: far from the main village. A (male) farmer actually told me that the great advantage of this system was/is (1) you get to fertilize your own field (and it is well known that micronutrient recycle is essential for sustainable agriculture) and (2) you are forced to visit your field every day and hence keep it under supervision.

There is a secluded, cordoned off area near the village for women and from which men are strictly prohibited.

So the system is not entirely a product of backwardness. The problem comes when the system is replicated without modification in dense, urban slums.

With kind regards,

Vishwanath

P.S. I have also met people who have said that they find defecating in a closed room to be very icky and unhygienic!
Vishwanath H. Dalvi
R. A. Mashelkar Assistant Professor
Department of Chemical Engineering
Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai
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  • adeelmalik
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boone or Bane?

Mr Mughal, I am actually not really surprised by some of the findings of the study in India, as I made some similar observations in Pakistan. During my study on CLTS and OD in Mardan, Pakistan (where CLTS was pioneered in Pakistan) I found that most people preferred to defecate in the open for several reasons.
First of all the communities thought it was unhygienic (or unclean and impure according to them) to have a latrine within the house. They could not imagine of having a toilet attached to a bedroom or even at the corner of their courtyard (giving the condition and type of pit latrines that were promoted in the area, I wasn't surprised). So according to most people its better to defecate as far away as possible from the house.
Many older people said their forefathers have been defecating in the open for such a long time and have been quite healthy and therefore they would not be willing to break the habit or change their ways. Some of the elder people also thought it was 'sunnah' (Sunnah is the way of life prescribed as normative for Muslims on the basis of the teachings and practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and interpretations of the Islamic holy book, the Quran - Wikipedia) and therefore believed it was absolutely necessary to carry on the practice of OD.
Many of the responders of the study said they were ashamed to use the latrine within the house, as everyone would notice them going to the toilet and would know what they were doing. On the other hand going into the field was not a problem as no one knew where they were or when they were defecting. So although these people defecate in the open they seem to be more comfortable doing so and enjoy a sort of privacy, which they wouldn't at home.
PhD candidate
Institute for Technology Assessment and System Analysis (ITAS)
Karlsruhe Instittue of Technology
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boone or Bane?

Dear Mr. Adeel Malik,

Thank you for your interesting comments. Your reference to the Sunnah in that the OD was practiced back then (please correct me, if I got it wrong), is unbelievable. I'm a very strict Muslims and following the teachings of Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). I will check this point with the Imam of my local Masjid; till then, I don't think OD was practiced back them. It is simply not correct.

I also request other Muslim users of this forum to kindly comment on this point.

F H Mughal
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  • adeelmalik
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boone or Bane?

Dear Mr. Mughal,

Don't get me wrong, I agree with you that it is not Sunnah, I am just telling you what the people have told me. They practice OD because they believe it is, and perhaps that is why they are adamant to change their ways. Of course these people are not literate and have many misconceptions when it comes to Sunnah and practices such as defecation.

regards,

Adeel
PhD candidate
Institute for Technology Assessment and System Analysis (ITAS)
Karlsruhe Instittue of Technology
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boone or Bane?

Dear Mr. Adeel,

Thank you for your clarifications. That was a relief, frankly! I appreciate.

Smiles :)

F H Mughal
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  • sujoy
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boon or Bane? (blessing or curse)

Dear Forum members

A very interesting discussion and the contributions so far have been excellent. Purity and convenience have long been associated with the OD habits of Hindus in particular. With India accounting for the largest number of Open defecator's and the numbers rising, it is imperative that the issues of purity and convenience is addressed successfully and sustain-ably. I have always found that the design of the latrine has significant influence on the user. Most of the latrines are constructed without keeping user preferences at the core of the design process. A latrine just like a house needs to be designed and constructed for use by the owners and this is where the Government constructed latrines fail with their standard designs.

The perceptions of impurity arising out having a latrine in the homestead and other such issues can perhaps be modified with very good communication tools.

I look forward to the views of members of the forum

Regards
Sujoy Chaudhury
Kolkata, India
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  • pkjha
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boon or Bane? (blessing or curse)

Dear Mr Mughal and All

You raised very interesting point of discussion. It appears unbelievable but fact is that many people don't use toilets with some definite valid reasons.
In recent months I traveled two states- Daltenganj Disrict, Jharkhand (dominated by Tribal families) and another Barmer (west Rajasthan state)a desert area in India. In both the states sanitation program are going on. However, coverage is very low.
In Daltenganj or any tibal belt, OD is not a felt need problem for many. Population density is very low. Forest area or open land is available in plenty. Under the government subsidy program, single pit latrines with or without water seal are being constructed. Quality of toilets was not good. Many people raised the question- it is better to go for OD than this fixed point defecation. Due to unhygienic toilet in house , there is more chance of transmission of diseases than OD at far area. Their points are not invalid. Only through implementation of good and sanitary toilets, such points can be answered.
During my visit to Barmer District last month, temperature was 46 degree Celcius. There also population density is very very low. It is complete sandy desert area. Only single pit latrines are constructed. Its quite difficult to empty such pit after it is filled. Manual scavenging is banned. Scavengers are not available, when available, they charge much more- almost half the cost of a toilet. Most of the people go for OD. Their explanation is- since temperature is very high, human excreta on sand dries up completely within a few hours. There is no chance of breeding of flies and mosquitoes at such high temperature. Therefore, OD has no adverse affect on health. Since the area has acute shortage of water, there is no chance of stagnation of water and hence least chance of water borne diseases.
Proper answer to convince them in a sustainable way is a considerable challenge. In such cases only social issues of OD particularly for women and girls are important to get them convince. Motivators should raise such issues to convince people.
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Pawan
Pawan Jha
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Foundation for Environment and Sanitation
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Re: Open Defecation: A Boon or Bane? (blessing or curse)

As a start, it would probably help to stop calling it a "latrine" as this invokes a not very nice place in most peoples minds, and also effects the vision of the designer/engineer who is asked to build such a place. "Toilet" is more neutral, but still not that much better.
I think there are good reason why there are often more "mild" terms used, like "bathroom" or "restroom"... here in the Philippines the common term is "Comfort room", which invokes a nice image of a place to both relief oneself but also a comfortable place to be at.
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