Written by:

Archive for Sangita Vyas

SQUAT dataset now available!

Written by on November 6th, 2014

squat logo_final_2

The full dataset from the SQUAT Survey is now available here! You will find the questionnaires and documentation files, also accessible at the same link as above, helpful if you decide to use the data.

We invite you all to play around with the data and do interesting analyses! Get in touch if you have questions, feedback, or things to share.

r.i.c.e. at UNC

Written by on October 17th, 2014

We just concluded a great week at the Water and Health Conference at UNC! Between the 4 of us attending, we had 6 verbal presentations and 6 poster presentations over the course of the week. We were so thrilled to be able to share so much of our work and to get such great feedback.

The highlight of our week was Tuesday’s side session in which we presented research from the SQUAT Survey and the Switching Study, and heard Tom Clasen’s thoughts on latrine use in India. The session concluded with a panel discussion between Robert Chambers, Oliver Cumming, Barbara Evans, and Eddy Perez, moderated by Jan Willem Rosenboom.

Stay tuned for our presentations, which we’ll put up very shortly.


r.i.c.e. standing by UNC's iconic Old Well. A fitting conclusion to the Water and Health Conference.

r.i.c.e. standing by UNC’s iconic Old Well. A fitting conclusion to the Water and Health Conference.

How many missing toilets will there be after the first 100 days?

Written by on August 28th, 2014

Now, I don’t really like to talk too much about toilets because it takes away from the conversation on latrine use, but Aashish and I just did some math on missing toilets, and the statistics are pretty stark.

For the past 15 years, the Total Sanitation Campaign, and then the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), has been building latrines across rural India, but despite these efforts, there has been little reduction in open defecation. In fact, from 2001 to 2011, latrine coverage in rural India increased by about 1 percentage point each year. A total of 5.2 crore rural households, or 31 percent of rural families, had toilets by 2011 in total. The website for the NBA, however, states that it built 8.7 crore toilets between 2001 and 2011

The government’s claims are even more startling when you consider that the Census showed that only about 80 lakh new toilets were built in rural areas over the same period. Let’s make the incorrect assumption that the government was responsible for all of these new toilets. For every toilet that was actually constructed, the government spent money to build 10!

So how many more missing toilets will there be on 31st August, the end of the PMs first 100 days, and the deadline for the construction of 5.2 million toilets? Wouldn’t it be a much better use of funds to instead focus on promoting latrine use, instead of building phantom toilets?

Sanitation is a core message in PMs Independence Day speech!

Written by on August 16th, 2014

The Prime Minister yesterday gave his Independence Day speech at the Red Fort, and brought up sanitation as an important issue for the next 4 years! He says,

I, therefore, have to launch a “Clean India” campaign from 2nd October this year and carry it forward in 4 years. I want to make a beginning today itself and that is – all schools in the country should have toilets with separate toilets for girls. Only then our daughters will not be compelled to leave schools midway. Our parliamentarians utilising MPLAD fund are there. I appeal to them to spend it for constructing toilets in schools for a year. The government should utilise its budget on providing toilets. I call upon the corporate sector also to give priority to the provision of toilets in schools with your expenditure under Corporate Social Responsibility. This target should be finished within one year with the help of state governments and on the next 15th August, we should be in a firm position to announce that there is no school in India without separate toilets for boys and girls.

While we are very happy to know that Modi continues to prioritize improving sanitation, any successful campaign to eliminate open defecation in India will need to focus on latrine use, not just building latrines. We hope that the designers of the “Clean India” campaign will keep this in mind.

Read the whole speech here.

Lots of educated men who have toilets still defecate in the open

Written by on August 13th, 2014


We often think that education in general, and educating people on how bacteria spread, will get people to use their latrines. In the graph above, we are able to see latrine use by sex and level of education for people who live in households that have a latrine. The data are from the SQUAT Survey of sanitation attitudes and behaviors in the rural parts of 5 north Indian states. What the graph shows is that even among highly educated individuals who have a latrine, a sizeable proportion still defecate in the open.

Of course, more educated people are more likely to use the latrines they have than less educated people, and women are more likely to use their latrines than men at every level of education. But, what is striking is that close to 20% of men who have studied up to the 12th class still defecate in the open even though they have a latrine at home. A larger fraction of men in our sample who are 12th class graduates in households that own latrines defecate in the open than do all people in Ghana, Senegal, and Zambia.

Defecating in the open is very much a part of Indian culture, and is much harder to change than just through education. Just relying on teachers to teach germ-theory in schools may not do the trick.

Bloomberg News also finds unused government latrines

Written by on August 5th, 2014
Photographer: Kartikay Mehrotra/Bloomberg

Photographer: Kartikay Mehrotra/Bloomberg

Bloomberg News came out with a story yesterday on how government latrines are often not used in rural north India because people are often disgusted by them. The journalist quotes Yamini Aiyar, of Accountability Initiative, saying:

Targets for construction of toilets are somewhat irrelevant to resolving the sanitation problem. 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.

He also cites some research from the SQUAT Study! Check the full story out here!

What do the SQUAT data say about latrine usage and religion?

Written by on July 29th, 2014

Hindu Muslim ownership

To continue the trajectory of chart month, I’d like to share some of the data that we collected in the SQUAT Survey on latrine ownership and usage among different religious groups. The SQUAT Survey teams randomly selected and interviewed around 3,200 rural households in over 300 villages in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. For a more detailed explanation of the sampling strategy, see our SQUAT policy brief.

Among SQUAT survey respondents, 52% of Muslim households have latrines, while a smaller 43% of Hindu households do. Moreover, the graph above shows that for every level of wealth, measured using a simple sum of a series of assets, Muslim households are more likely to have a latrine than Hindu households are. These results are similar to what one would see using larger datasets like India’s NFHS and the IHDS.

Now of course, one of the main contributions of the SQUAT survey is that it allows us to look at usage, not just ownership. The following graphs look at usage among people who have latrines and are chock full of interesting stuff. First, they show that for men and women of all ages, Muslims use the latrines they have more often than Hindus do. However, this difference is more prevalent among women than men, suggesting that purdah among Muslim women may be an important factor here.

The other interesting thing about these graphs is how usage changes among different age groups. Now remember, this data is cross-sectional, so it doesn’t show how usage changes over time for individuals, but how usage is different right now among different age groups. Young children often defecate in the open. As they get older, both women and men tend to use their latrines more, although women of childbearing age are more likely to use than men of the same age. Older people are more likely to defecate in the open, most likely because it is their habit. It’s what they have been doing since they were children. Finally, there is an uptick in usage among the very old, probably because ailing health makes it difficult for them to walk out to the fields.

Hindu Muslim use combined

The story that these graphs tell is that in the rural areas we visited in north India, just as in larger nationally representative datasets, Muslims are more likely to own latrines than Hindus. Moreover, among those households who have latrines, Muslims are also more likely to use it. Given the consistency between different datasets, both nationally representative and focused on rural areas where the sanitation problem is concentrated, and the consistency between ownership and usage, I’m pretty convinced that this story is real.

V.S. Naipaul understood the culture of open defecation way back in 1964!

Written by on July 25th, 2014

I recently picked up V.S. Naipaul’s book An Area of Darkness, a chronicle of his first trip to India published in 1964. Although some view the book as overly pessimistic and scathing, his portrayal of India’s culture of open defecation is uncannily accurate.

Shankaracharya Hill, overlooking the Dal Lake, is one of the beauty spots of Srinagar. It has to be climbed with care, for large areas of its lower slopes are used as latrines by Indian tourists. If you surprise a group of three women, companionably defecating, they will giggle: the shame is yours, for exposing yourself to such a scene.

In Madras the bus station near the High Court is one of the more popular latrines. The traveller arrives; to pass the time he raises his dhoti, defecates in the gutter. The bus arrives; he boards it; the woman sweeper cleans up after him.

In Goa, you might think of taking an early morning walk along the balustrade avenue that runs beside the Mandovi River. Six feet below, on the water’s edge, and as far as you can see, there is a line, like a wavering tidewrack, of squatters. For the people of Goa, as for those of Imperial Rome, defecating is a social activity; they squat close to one another; they chatter. When they are done they advance, trousers still down, backsides bare, into the water to wash themselves.

Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate, mostly, beside the railway tracks. But they also defecate on the beaches; they defecate on the hills; they defecate on the river banks; they defecate on the streets; they never look for cover.

A handsome young Muslim boy, a student at a laughable institute of education in an Uttar Pradesh weaving town, elegantly dressed in the style of Mr. Nehru, even down to the buttonhole, had another explanation. Indians were a poetic people, he said. He himself always sought the open because he was a poet, a lover of Nature, which was the matter of his Urdu verses; and nothing was as poetic as squatting on a river bank at dawn.

He eloquently describes in these vignettes what we have found 50 years later in the SQUAT and Switching Studies: that defecating in the open is the social norm. It is considered to be a part of the wholesome, rural life, in which one takes a walk outside in nature, socializes with friends, and avoids polluting oneself and one’s home.

A new blog on Centre for Global Development: “Honey, West Bengal Shrunk the Kids”

Written by on June 18th, 2014

Clever title aside, Victoria Fan and Rifaiyat Mahbub of the Centre for Global Development discuss the overlaps between an older paper by Shroff et al and a more recent one by Arabinda Ghosh and r.i.c.e researchers, both explaining the differences in health outcomes between West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Fan and Mahbub end with:

And yet both our study and this newer study seem to be deficient and complement each other. Our study did not account for the nutritional status of women or the problem of open defecation in trying to understand differences in health indicators across West Bengal and Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the recent study stopped short of disentangling oral rehydration therapy and immunization.

More research that increases the scope of these two studies and examines the combination of the factors explored in two works discussed needs to be undertaken. Drawing on these natural experiments is also a fruitful area for research – the Two Bengals, Two Punjabs, two Germanys, two Koreas, two Chinas, etc. Any takers, public health students?

We are all for more research on this topic, and we are definitely all for taking advantage of more natural experiments!

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

Written by 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.


Featuring Recent Posts WordPress Widget development by YD