SQUAT, Payal and Nikhil on NDTV’s Truth Vs. Hype with Sreenivasan Jain

Written by on October 25th, 2014

Squat on NDTV

NDTV’s award winning journalist, Sreenivasan Jain, on his much acclaimed programme Truth versus Hype, discussed the truth and the hype of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. You can see the video here.

Nikhil took Sreenivasan Jain around villages of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and talked on the show about his experiences of fieldwork on sanitation programmes as well.

Nikhil on NDTV 2

Payal was also a part of the show.

Payal on ndtv

The programme is fairly important. For the first time, on national television, points that r.i.c.e. has continues to made in articles and op-eds can be seen. People might not believe the SQUAT survey, but people would have a tough time ignoring villagers from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh talking about their toilets and why they don’t like using them.


moral mathematics and fall leaves

Written by on October 24th, 2014
little women, little babies

little women, little babies

Diane and I are in New England for some presentations and meetings  While we were close to the Hebron town hall, we took the chance to turn in our absentee ballots for the fall elections.  Naturally, this prompted me to link back to the three times that what Parfit calls “moral mathematics” has appeared on our blog in some form.

One thing I think Parfit’s discussion gets exactly right is the occasional importance of tiny probabilities, when attached to a very large cost or benefit.  So, voting may be an obligation if the welfare consequences of one winner are very different from another (or if the vote total has a large signaling effect), even if the probabilities involved are small.  By the same logic, it may be a very good idea to work hard to have a small chance of changing the rate of decline of open defecation in India (hint: do a latrine use survey).

On an unrelated note, today the New York Times has a well-deserved blog post on the excellent ASER survey of child learning, the same dataset that Sneha Lamba and I use in our paper on cognitive consequences of early life exposure to poor sanitation.


The Hindu covers Aashish’s research on the underreporting of violence against women in India

Written by on October 22nd, 2014


Rukmini S. of The Hindu published an article today about Aashish’s new study on how so few violent crimes against women are actually reported to the police in India.  Part of the article is below, but read the full text here.

Husbands commit a majority of acts of sexual violence in India, and just one per cent of marital rapes and six per cent of rapes by men other than husbands are reported to the police, new estimates show.

In keeping with the widely held belief among women’s rights activists in India that sexual violence is grossly under-reported, social scientist Aashish Gupta with the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics compared National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics on officially reported cases of violence against women with data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), which asked women respondents whether they had faced any sexual or physical violence.

Since the most recent round of the NFHS was conducted in 2005, Mr. Gupta compared the NCRB statistics for that year with the extent of violence that women had admitted to in the NFHS survey.

Mr. Gupta found that while 157 per 1,00,000 women reported to NFHS surveyors that they had experienced rape by men other than their husbands in the past 12 years, 6,590 — or nearly two of every three women — said their husbands had physically forced them to have sexual intercourse against their will. This meant that just 2.3 per cent of all rapes experienced by women were by men other than their husbands.

For both marital and non-marital rapes, however, the officially reported figures were extremely low, Mr. Gupta said in a working paper he shared with The Hindu. Comparing the NCRB and NFHS data in 2005, just 5.8 per cent of rapes by men other than the woman’s husband were reported to the police, and just 0.6 per cent of rapes by the husband. Since marital rape was not recognised as a crime in India, it was probably reported as “cruelty,” Mr. Gupta found.

The true cost of sanitation

Written by on October 22nd, 2014

In Rohini Nilekani’s recent LiveMint piece, she argues that before we “rush out to build toilets everywhere” it is important to understand both the costs of poor sanitation, and the complexities in overcoming the challenge.

Ms. Nilekani quotes our work in talking about some of the hidden, and difficult to measure, costs of poor sanitation:

The work of economist Dean Spears and the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics, or R.I.C.E., shows us that this true cost of not completing the sanitation loop is also reflected in millions of stunted or malnourished children, and in high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Ms. Nilekani also importantly points out that access alone is not the issue.  Getting people to actually use their latrines is not a simple thing to do in rural India, and creating demand takes time, manpower, and resources:

What is important to accept is that even when people have access to toilets, many prefer to use the outdoors.  Over the past two decades, the experience of many organizations working on rural sanitation has yielded some explanations. People behave perfectly rationally when they prefer an open-air space to a small, smelly loo. They are worried that the small underground pits which collect the waste from the toilets will fill up quickly and that it will require money and added work to empty them. Hence, many men think they are being considerate when they desist from using the toilet, in favour of the women of the house.

We need to carefully understand the situation, the emotions and the rationales of people in order to understand what it will cost to improve sanitation facilities in the country…

First, there is the question of proper demand generation. People have to clearly see the connection between their family’s health and their sanitation habits. And they need sustained help to break old habits and make the appropriate change in behaviour. We can now leverage the work of many agencies that have successfully designed and delivered scientific and effective communication. But this comes at a price. To use an example from the work of my foundation, Arghyam in Davangere district in Karnataka, the communication campaign cost was around Rs.1,000 per toilet. Gramalaya, an NGO believes it takes as much as Rs.2,500 per toilet over several months on behaviour-change communication so as to achieve sustainable sanitation outcomes.

It is absolutely true that the costs of poor sanitation are far too high and that we can no longer afford failure in addressing the challenge.  Many more players are needed to learn how to motivate people to change their behavior if we are to prevent these costs from rising even further.

How many of us are willing to clean our own toilets?

Written by on October 22nd, 2014

Sagarika Ghosh’s Times of India blog post this week echoes some of r.i.c.e.’s research findings and addresses a very deep reason why India’s sanitation challenge continues to be so intractable: purity, pollution, and caste discrimination.  You can read the full post here, but here are some excerpts:

“Purity” and “pollution”, said Louis Dumont in his seminal work Homo Hierarchus, are a principal feature of India`s caste system, where the higher you go the “cleaner” or “purer” you become. The lower you are in the caste hierarchy the dirtier or more “impure” you are.

Ghosh goes on to say:

Precisely because cleaning is the duty of the social pariah, cleanliness has become a pariah to our daily lives too. Toilets are “dirty”, to be cleaned by those who do “dirty work”, upper castes are not programmed to clean their own waste because the socially inferior do it for them. We not only need a jhadoo for the street, we need a jhadoo in our minds as well.

From our qualitative study, this same sentiment came through in many of the interviews we conducted.  People feel intense disgust towards the idea of dealing with feces and cleaning latrine pits because feces are considered “unclean” and “impure.”  By extension, those responsible for cleaning feces are considered polluting.  Given enduring caste hierarchies, Dalits, who are called upon to handle human waste, are considered polluted because of this work, and people in higher castes consider contact with them to be polluting as well.

What does this all have to do with latrines and latrine use?  Simple latrines, common in most developing countries, are difficult to find in India because they are considered unacceptable, in part because latrine use means accumulating pollution and impurity near the home.  Pit emptying in India presents a deeper challenge than in most societies because of these concepts of purity and pollution and because of caste and untouchability.  Deeply internalized casteism means that most people are unwilling to empty their own or others’ latrine pits.

One way that people try to get around the problem of pit emptying is by constructing enormous pits, which are essentially underground rooms to collect feces.  Large pits allow people to feel that they’ll almost never have to deal with the feces, escaping the possibility of pollution.  These unnecessarily large pits appear to be the social norm in rural areas, making it socially unacceptable for the less wealthy to build and use simpler latrines that they can actually afford.  Instead, they continue to defecate in the open.

The solution is not for everyone to make latrines with larger and larger pits.  As Ms. Ghosh points out, what is needed is a change in mindsets, to transform what is culturally acceptable and make the use of simple latrines the aspiration of every individual in rural India.

Check out our UNC posters and presentations

Written by on October 21st, 2014

As Sangita posted a few days back, we had a great week at the UNC Health and Water Conference last week.  I’m posting our presentations and posters here, in case anyone wants to take a closer look at the research that we shared:


Confronting the challenge: Sanitation behavior change in rural north India:

Population density and the effect of sanitation on early-life health


Please do let us know what you think – we’d love to hear your feedback!

Working Paper: Reporting and incidence of violence against women in India.

Written by on October 18th, 2014

  Sanitation has dominated the r.i.c.e blog for sometime, but this paper on violence against women has been pending for an equally long time too. I finally revised it, and its online now. The paper, which estimates the proportion of cases of violence against women which are actually reported to the police, is available here. I am pasting below the abstract of the paper.

Using data from the National Crime Records Bureau and the National Family Health Surveys, this article estimates, conservatively, the under-reporting of violence against women in India. I calculate under-reporting of sexual and physical violence, both for violence committed by “men other than survivor’s husband” and violence committed by husbands. In 2005, only about six of every hundred incidents of sexual violence committed by “men other than the survivor’s husband” are estimated to be reported to the police. Most incidents of sexual violence, however, were committed by husbands of the survivors: the number of women who experienced sexual violence by husbands was forty times the number of women who experienced sexual violence by non-intimate perpetrators. Less than 1% of the incidents of sexual violence by husbands were reported to the police. Similarly, only about 1% of the incidents of physical violence by other men, and 2% of the incidents of physical violence by husbands were reported. These striking findings shed further light on the presence of endemic violence against women in India, and reveal the extent of the obstacles confronted by women in reporting violence.

The working paper will benefit from your comments, so if you have any, please feel free to write to me at [email protected] Your comments will help me revise the paper. If you like the paper, do share it. I have written it with the hope that it would be of use to the feminist movement in India. Thanks.

Payal’s article for IndiaSpend: The Trouble With India’s $22 Billion Toilet Gamble

Written by on October 18th, 2014

IndiaSpend, the data journalism website, published an article by Payal. Here is the article. The full text of the article is also pasted below.

The Narendra Modi Government has announced that Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM) has to be a mass movement to make India open defecation free in five years. By spending Rs 1.34 lakh crore ($22 billion) to build about  110 million toilets across the country, “the pet project of the Prime Minister will be executed on a war footing with the involvement of every gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zila parishad in the country, besides roping in large sections of rural population and school teachers and students in this endeavor.”

While it is commendable that the Government has set high ambitions, it is worth exploring how they plan to reach the goal.  Unfortunately, plans for SBM don’t look very different from the erstwhile Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA).  The priority is still on construction, perhaps even more so than before, and so does not appear to be as significant a break from the past as hoped.

One important change in the new SBM is its increased budget.  110 million is the number of rural households that have no toilet facilities. So, much of the enlarged budget will go towards building a new toilet for every rural household in India without one.  This may seem like a good idea to those who argue that having a latrine is a prerequisite to using one but we at Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e.)would argue that there’s something that needs to happen even before that. We recently conducted the Sanitation Quality, Use, Access, and Trends (SQUAT) Survey in over 3,000 households in rural north India to explore people’s sanitation attitudes and practices.

We found that many people in households with working latrines choose to defecate in the open anyway.  To reach these people, we need to create a desire in them to actually have and use a toilet even before they physically get or make one.  Access to toilets alone will not solve the problem of open defecation when many people simply prefer to defecate in the open.  Is the Government really prepared to waste resources?

Not only are more toilets to be built but at Rs 12,000 each, they cost Rs 2,000 more than each toilet built under NBA.  As a simple exercise, we calculated that if the Government hired one dedicated behavior change staff member for 700,000 villages, five staff members in each of the 6,000 block offices and one staff member in each of the 600 districts, for five years, it would cost less than one-fifth of what it would cost to build a Rs 12,000 toilet for every household without one in rural India. Not only does it make practical sense to focus on changing people’s minds, it also makes financial sense.

Rather than motivating people to want and use their latrines, SBM is actually worse than NBA in terms of behavior change because the information, education, and communication (IEC) allocation has declined from 15% to just 8% of the budget.  While it may be true that this is a larger monetary amount than previously allocated (because the SBM’s entire budget is much larger than that of the NBA), the reduction is symbolic in terms of the importance given to changing people’s minds and sanitation practices versus construction.  The language of the new policy indicates that “behaviour change and usage of toilets shall be given top priority to ensure increased demand,” but given budgetary allocations, this seems even less possible now than it was under the NBA.

It is useful to reflect on how much money has actually been allocated, only for the construction of new toilets in rural India.  Per year, the projected construction allocation under just the rural part of the SBM is more than 9 times the 2013-14 NBA expenditure and close to three-fourths of 2013-14 employment guarantee programme (NREGA) expenditure. These numbers are enormous.  And still, the question remains whether the Government will actually be able to spend whatever money ultimately gets allocated.

Of the cumulative funds allocated to NBA and its predecessor, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), till date, the Government has been able to spend only 84% for household construction and 45% for IEC.  Without hiring more ground staff to increase what the Government has the capacity to spend, it is unlikely that SBM will be able to make faster progress than previous sanitation efforts.

For now, it appears that construction will yet again trump behavior change in SBM.  Since the full set of guidelines for SBM is yet to be released, there is still an opportunity for the Government to change course, ensure that funds allocated to behavior change are actually spent and make sure that only toilets that are constructed are those that will be used.

(Payal Hathi is a researcher and associate director at the research institute for compassionate economics)

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.

Payal was quoted in the Hindu!

Written by on October 16th, 2014

The article, written by Rukmini S had the funny but tragic but true headline, Toilets on Paper. Here is the section which quotes Payal:

The other thing that will change, the government says, is an emphasis on behavioural change. Over the last year, a series of research studies have shown that not everyone who gets a toilet uses it — 40 per cent of the households with access to toilets had at least one family member not using it, economists from RICE found in a five-State study.

The government says this will change. “Building toilets and effecting behaviour change — these are the two prongs of the strategy,” Sandhya Singh, Joint Director of the SBA (Rural), said. Yet, as RICE economist Payal Hathi points out, funding for the information, education and communication segment of the scheme has fallen from 15 per cent to 8 per cent as a proportion of total funds spent.

“With the SBA, this new government has the opportunity to do things differently and put India on a better trajectory … the government will need to increase its capacity to carry out the important work of changing people’s attitudes about latrine use, and make clear that the use of latrines is more important than simply constructing them,” Ms. Hathi said.

Featuring Recent Posts WordPress Widget development by YD