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Even America’s National Public Radio says a sanitation social movement may be in order

Written by Sangita Vyas on June 9th, 2014

Julie McCarthy of National Public Radio covers the recent incident of sexual and caste violence in Badaun and open defecation. She rightly highlights the importance of shifting social norms in order to eliminate open defecation, and even uses some statistics from the SQUAT survey!

The Gates Foundation’s Brian Arbogast says even affordable innovations won’t alone solve India’s sanitation problems. He says India needs to shift the mindset that open defecation is ‘natural and normal’ to ‘it is not healthy.’

‘You teach them that their children and their families are suffering a lot of sickness because of basically fecal matter being transmitted by flies or other ways to the food they eat,’ Arbogast says. ‘And once people really realize that, that can really be a triggering event for a community.’

Diane Coffey, an economist and Ph.D. candidate with Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School says simply providing latrines is no guarantee that people will actually use them. She studied five northern Indian states and found that 19 percent of women with access to a latrine still preferred to defecate in the open.

‘They’re used to it, for one,’ Coffey says. And she says the research is clear that ‘building toilets without addressing common norms, attitudes and beliefs around latrine use is unlikely to reduce open defecation in rural India.’

And she’s very right about Indians’ expectations of Modi. He better make good on his recent election campaign promise: “toilets first, temples later.”

Check out her article and radio segment here.