ADB, the best regional development bank for water and sanitation, has published a couple of excellent reports this year on sanitation in India: India’s Sanitation for All: How to Make It Happen and, just the other day, Sanitation in India: Progress, Differentials, Correlates, and Challenges. The second section of the first report is “Sanitation in India: How Bad is It?” and here’s a quote:
However, while India may be “on track” in achieving the MDG sanitation target, it is important not to be complacent. MDG goals simply represent achievable levels if countries commit the resources and power to accomplish them. They do not necessarily represent acceptable levels of service.
This is especially true for India’s sanitation situation. Despite recent progress, access to improved sanitation remains far lower in India compared to many other countries with similar, or even lower, per capita gross domestic product. Bangladesh, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Viet Nam − all with a lower gross domestic product per capita than India − are just a few of the countries that achieved higher access to improved sanitation in 2006.
An estimated 55% of all Indians, or close to 600 million people, still do not have access to any kind of toilet. Among those who make up this shocking total, Indians who live in urban slums and rural environments are affected the most.
In rural areas, the scale of the problem is particularly daunting, as 74% of the rural population still defecates in the open. In these environments, cash income is very low and the idea of building a facility for defecation in or near the house may not seem natural. And where facilities exist, they are often inadequate. The sanitation landscape in India is still littered with 13 million unsanitary bucket latrines, which require scavengers to conduct house-to-house excreta collection. Over 700,000 Indians still make their living this way.
The second report has some pertinent figures: if you’re rich you’re OK, but if you’re poor you’re not – as shown in the following two charts (prepared from Table 1 in the report).
The report estimates that US$ 7.9 billion is needed to provide toilets for all households that currently lack toilets in India (US$ 4.7 billion for rural areas and US$ 3.2 billion for urban areas). The report goes on to say that it would cost about U$ 7.7 billion to connect all currently unconnected urban households to sewer systems (but the report doesn’t mention simplified/condominial sewerage, so this is likely to be an overestimate). “Since these financing requirements are so huge”, the report suggests “progressive improvement in the types of sanitation solutions. Sewerage systems tend to benefit richer households; hence, some form of capital cost recovery could be considered to finance sewerage-related infrastructure.” I should think so (and it should be “should” not “could”): the rich shouldn’t get subsidised sewerage when so many have no sanitation at all.
All in all, both reports are definite “must reads”. Well done, ADB!