In India, Ending Open Defecation Requires More Than Just Behavior Change
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
It’s been 10 months since India officially launched Swachh Bharat, a national cleanliness drive, which, among other things, aims to put an end to the practice of open defecation in the country by 2019.
To meet its target, some 30 million people need to be convinced to build and use toilets each year. But the $31 billion program has been criticized for cutting funding for education and communication intended to do the convincing. It has instead focused on subsidy-fueled construction, targeting more than 110 million toilets in five years.
Nongovernmental organizations are warning the mission will fail unless people are motivated to change habits. And they’re working alongside the government to try to make it happen —innovating behavior change techniques, leveraging technology and partnering with companies.
Designing behavior change programs is particularly difficult in India, according to Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman of Feedback Foundation, which runs several such endeavors funded by the World Bank. There are multiple languages, religions, castes and tribes, and no single method works for them all, he said.
“What might trigger a Hindu majority population, won’t work for Muslim,” he noted.
Community-led total sanitation is one of the most widely used methods to stop open defecation. Developed in Bangladesh, CLTS aims to generate demand for toilets in a community by triggering feelings of disgust. But this doesn’t work so well in India either.
“That trigger works well if you’re a tight-knit community,” a UNICEF official explained. “But in the nontribal areas there’s a divide: the caste system.”
When piloting CLTS, UNICEF found it effective in India’s tribal areas but saw it “does not work at all well” in general communities — which make up the majority of the population. So the agency is encouraging state governments to adopt it in tribal areas.
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