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Toilet Quality Critical: US researcher

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Rob Kutter, a sustainability consultant and PhD candidate at Arizona State University lived in India for 10 months to study beneficiary participation, a process in which community members become an integral part of the solution to a development problem. Kutter studied two development projects and found that there could be a causal relationship between toilet quality and usage. In one project where slum dwellers used high quality toilets, they were more prone to using them. However, in another, where low quality toilets were used, they resorted to open defecation.

“Getting people to shift from open defecation to toilets is a big win for both personal and public health. Unfortunately, people who reported low toilet quality were less likely to use the toilet they had and therefore were more likely to resort to open defecation,” he observed.

“I observed clear instances where poor toilet quality led people not to use toilets (e.g., some toilets were too small to use comfortably),” he said. The projects he studied used pour-flush pit latrines. Access to sanitation greatly improves people’s health and protects the environment. And Indians need better access to sanitation,” he said.

Two out of three Indians lack toilets, according to a joint study by the WHO and UNICEF.

He also stated that “there are interesting intersections between religion and sanitation in India.” Hindus, India’s major religious group, widely regard the Ganges as India’s holiest river, but it is very polluted. Poor sanitation both in terms of collection and treatment of human excreta contributes significantly to pollution in the Ganges.

According to Kutter, there is a lot of discussion about sanitation marketing in India. “Policy makers and project organizers believe that many Indian people don’t want sanitation, so there’s a need to create demand for it.” He cited Haryana’s “No Toilet, No Bride” campaign. In some places, people already want access to sanitation, and they just need affordable, high quality options.

By lanes of a slum in Bhopal where Rob Cutter spent some time researching the relation between toilet quality and usage. Photo Credit: Rob Kutter
By lanes of a slum in Bhopal where Rob Cutter spent some time researching the relation between toilet quality and usage. Photo Credit: Rob Kutter

In interviews with Bhopal’s slum dwellers he found that even if residents had migrated from a rural area where they practiced open defecation, the city’s rapid development left fewer and fewer open areas for people to continue practicing open defecation. Open defecation can be especially dangerous and undignified for women.