The second phase of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which is being implemented between 2020-21 and 2024-25 after approval by the Cabinet, is planned to help the country continue to address both sanitary and environmental issues. The Mission is the Narendra Modi administration’s flagship policy when it comes to sanitation and has been a cornerstone of its public health and environmental agendas.
Phase II of the Mission will further efforts to tackle India’s issues with sanitation, health, and means of waste disposal. Much of the action in Phase II will be targeted around ODF (open defecation free+plus), which is working on improving sanitation by addressing entrenched habits and reinforcing positive behavioral changes around waste management and sanitation.
As previously reported by Health Issues India, “the initiative has been widely acclaimed by international observers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was conferred the Global Goalkeeper Award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his role in promoting the scheme. Nicolas Osbert, chief of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene at UNICEF India, has praised the initiative, opening “five years of time, considering the size and diversity of the nation, the success of Swachh Bharat Mission is a world record.” Bill Gates himself has lauded the scheme.” Nonetheless, considerable issues remain.
Despite the reduction in cases of open defecation witnessing a positive trajectory, India remains the number-one country in the world. Such a case may give rise to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims that India as a country was open-defecation free. In October 2019 (the initiative’s fifth-anniversary), he said “today, villages in rural India have declared themselves open defecation free…once, one used to hesitate to talk about a toilet, but now toilets have become an important part of thought in the country.”
Yet, comments in 2020 from Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman further underline that open defecation is yet to be eradicated. She announced that the government has allocated 12,300 crores for Swachh Bharat Mission while presenting the Union Budget for the year 2020-21, according to an official press release.
“Now more needs to be done towards liquid and greywater management. The focus would also be on solid waste collection, source segregation, and processing. Total allocation for Swachh Bharat Mission is 12,300 crore in 2020-21,” she said.
Behavioural changes around sanitation
Behavioural changes will be key to addressing and preventing open defecation as part of the Phase II of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission as patterns amongst parts of the population suggest that there is still encouragement and continuation of open defecation even if toilets are made available. This is particularly the case in rural areas of India where Bihar, for example, has the largest number of households practising open defecation. The practice is known to be an entrenched cultural norm for some.
Yet there is reason for optimism concerning change. “Mental models and social norms are malleable, and, when challenged, can lead to behavior change…behavior change can be achieved relatively quickly and at low cost using behaviorally informed information interventions,” a study into social norms and reduction of open defecation in rural India concluded.
Observation of safe sanitation practice and the reduction of open defecation needs to be assiduously cultivated, as it has been over the Swachh Bharat Mission years of 2014-19. Now, with phase-II of the mission, attention has been placed on the sustainability of ODF, and how doubling down on behavioural changes with a stream of campaigns may mould the remaining numbers within the population still practicing open defecation and help reduce rates.
Polluted water, sanitation, and open defecation
The toll of open defecation also weighs on the health of India, subsequently burdening the country with increased mortality rates, negative economic impact, and unhealthy environmental impacts.
Despite Swachh Bharat’s Mission to ramp up access to sanitation, alongside projects such as WASH, experts predict that forty percent of India’s entire population may not have a connection to a clean water source by 2030.
The subsequent impact of these damning statistics are contaminated water sources and river systems severely polluted with raw sewage. Water quality is very much an issue umbilically tethered to sanitation as around seventy percent of wastewater goes untreated and each day, more than forty million liters of wastewater flows directly into India’s lakes, rivers and ocean. The degradation of the Ganga River is a testament to this.
The negative health impacts of this doubling down of pollution and poor sanitation, through practices such as open defecation, is that parts of India’s population will likely be susceptible to waterborne diseases, deaths related to diarrhoea, and even issues such as stunted growth in children.
The issue of sanitation in India remains multi-faceted with wide ranging-implications from health to environment to economic impacts. For now, the country remains far from open defecation free, yet it is hoped that phase-II of the Swachh Bharat Mission may help the country take a step closer with behavioural changes that can ultimately help alleviate many of the issues associated with poor sanitation.