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article imageIndia: 600,000 die annually from 50% open-defecation rate

By Larry Clifton     Aug 4, 2014 in Health
India, a nation with one foot in the present and the other in the past, suffers from a certain kind of pollution largely associated with undeveloped nations.
The populations of entire villages in India still defecate in common-area fields that surround their communities, according to a Bloomberg report out Monday.
The government of India, a world nuclear power, is trying to control disease by potty training rural populations who return to nature when nature calls, even after the government has installed toilets at their homes.
For example, Sunita’s family, who live in the North Indian village of Mukimpur, prefer to do their business on the edge of the jungle next to their farm in a field speckled by flowers where most of the village of 7,000 go to defecate and gossip.
India’s government has been long frustrated by rural citizens who refuse to use government toilets and spread disease throughout their communities.
Sunita , who uses one name, says only dalits, the lowest Hindu caste, ought to be exposed to excrement in a closed space, "or city-dwellers who don't have space to go in the open." The 26-year-old mother reportedly made the remarks while washing clothes next to the family's unused concrete government toilet. "Feces don't belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep."
Hardly an isolated view, the cultural task of toilet-training rural Indians remains one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's biggest challenges in combating the world's biggest sanitation problem.
Officials say people defecating in the open costs 600,000 Indians their lives each year from diarrhea and related diseases. A secondary problem caused by answering nature’s call in the woods is that a third of the nation's women face increased risks of rape and sexual assault.
About one half of India’s population lacks indoor toilets. Modi’s administration promised to build 5.3 million latrines by the end of his first 100 days in office, which ends Aug. 31, according to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
However, many, if not most toilets, will be ignored unless the government is successful in its educational program dovetailing toilet installations.
"Targets for construction of toilets are somewhat irrelevant to resolving the sanitation problem," said Yamini Aiyar, director of policy research group Accountability Initiative in New Delhi. "Building toilets does not mean that people will use them and there seems to be a host of cultural, social and caste-based reasons for that. People need to be taught the value of sanitation."
Roughly 100,000 tons of Indians excrement makes its way to markets every day on fruit and vegetables, according to Unicef, the United Nation's children's fund. Each gram of feces in an open field contains 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria and 1,000 parasite cysts, according to Unicef.
About 60% of the world’s population who don't use toilets reside in India, according to the World Health Organization. India has a 50% open-defecation rate compared to 23% in Pakistan, 3% in Bangladesh in 1% in China, according to UNICEF and WHO reports.
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