“Sanitation, more than many other human rights, evokes the concept of human dignity…Consider the vulnerability and shame that so many people experience every day when, again, they are forced to defecate in the open, in a bucket or in a plastic bag.” – Catalina Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), 2014
More than a billion people around the world defecate in the open because they don’t have access to or can’t afford to build a toilet. Open defecation, and the lack of sanitation and hygiene in general, is one of the world’s greatest health risks. It rapidly spreads disease at a huge cost in terms of health, education and employment.
According to UNICEF, fecal contamination and poor sanitation is a leading cause of child mortality, disease, under nutrition and stunting. Open defecation also exposes women and girls to the danger of physical attacks and rape, as they often wait for the cover of dark to relieve themselves.
India has been battling a lack of sanitation for decades. In 2014, when fewer than four in ten rural households owned a toilet, the country began a massive Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign to give every Indian citizen access to clean toilets and eliminate open defecation for good.
The results were impressive, with 110 million household and public toilets built between 2014 and 2019 — translating to over seven in ten households with access.