Letter From India: How Poop is Becoming Big Business for Small Companies
Saturday, January 14, 2017
I was in Mumbai, making a long commute across town after a week full of events and conferences. When we arrived in South Bombay, my taxi driver slowed down to point out a nearby slum, dangerously perched on one of the slopes of Malabar Hills—Mumbai’s most upscale and expensive property. I could see a few narrow lanes crowded with women washing clothes, utensils, open drains with children squatting over them—a loose tap with gushing neon blue water—and the overwhelming stench of feces.
Coincidentally, this was World Toilet Day, November 19. I had just spent the past week attending discussions to raise awareness about the sanitation crisis in India. Nothing could match the immediacy and stark reality of the moment as I stared at fecal sludge lining the slum’s narrow lanes against the backdrop of high-rise buildings and penthouses.
India’s sanitation crisis is astounding. In a 2016 study by WaterAid, India topped the list for the highest number of urban dwellers without access to sanitation and the highest number of open-defecators. More than 157 million Indians (41 percent of the population residing in urban areas) live without adequate sanitation and more than 40 million people in India defecate in the open. There have been efforts to address this growing and precarious issue, but most toilet schemes fail due to administrative apathy, lack of maintenance, insufficient water, unsanitary habits, and a lack of focus beyond infrastructure.