It is ironic that a third world country like ours has more money to spend on luxuries that the bare necessities of life. A new UN study has found that more people in India, the world’s second most populous country, have access to a mobile telephone than to a toilet.
“It is tragic that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half its people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity of a toilet,” said Zafar Adeel, director of United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (IWEH).
India has some 545 million cellphones, enough to serve about 45% of the population, but only about 366 million people or 31% of the population had access to improved sanitation in 2008.
If current global trends continue, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) predict there will be a shortfall of at least 1 billion persons from that sanitation goal by the target date of 2015.
“Anyone who shirks the topic as repugnant, minimises it as undignified, or considers unworthy those in need should let others take over for the sake of the 1.5 million children and countless others killed each year by contaminated water and unhealthy sanitation,” Adeel said.
“While I do not completely agree with the UN report, it is a fact that India, with its population of over one billion, does need more toilets,” said Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder, Sulabh International, a social service organisation which aims to make affordable toilets available to all.
“Our cultural background,” he said, “is the reason behind this problem.” Traditionally, Indians were told that they should have a toilet away from the house, which is why we didn’t have toilets inside the house,” he explained.
According to a 2001 study, 15% houses in urban areas had a ‘flush latrine’, while 85% did not have any facility. In rural areas, 17.4 % homes had toilets.
According to statistics given by the rural development ministry in 2008, 60.07% houses in urban areas have toilets, while 57% houses in rural areas have toilets.