research institute for compassionate economics

Increasing recognition of sanitation (and rice work)

Written by Aashish Gupta on May 11th, 2014

In a new article in the business newspaper LiveMint, Sumit Mishra discusses the increasing recognition of the importance of sanitation in India. Mishra writes:

The importance of sanitation can be gauged by looking at the manifestos of the two major parties over time. While sanitation was conspicuous by its absence in the manifestoes of major parties in 2009, this time has been different. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress promise to make India open-defecation free in their 2014 manifestoes.

Readers would recall that this was also discussed in a previous post on the rice blog. Mishra also reports results from rice research.

Princeton University economist Dean Spears refuted it first in Mintexplaining that sanitation is the key predictor of the difference between children’s height across countries. This was followed by the publication of a collection of six papers in EPW by, among others, Deaton and Spears, who pointed out how Panagariya had ignored the role of disease and ill-health, often caused by poor sanitation, in stunting growth.
Research by Spears and two of his colleagues, Arabinda Ghosh and Aashish Gupta, shows that for a given level of economic status, children in Bangladesh are taller than those in West Bengal because of lower level ofopen defecation in Bangladesh. Similarly, Cambodia experienced a rapid decline in open defecation in the last 10 years; this alone accounts for much of the rise in the height of children, Spears et al argue in anotherstudy. Spears, Ghosh and Oliver Cummings in an analysis of data for hundred poor districts in India show that “ten percent increase in open defecation was associated with a 0.7 percentage points increase in stunting and severe stunting.”
That’s not all.
In a provocative new paper, economists Michael Geruso and Spears find that Muslims are taller than Hindus and have lower rates of child mortality solely because of the differing sanitation practices in the two communities. While 67% poor Hindus defecate in the open, only 42% poor Muslims do so, they report, using data from the last National Family Health Survey. Their estimates also suggest that relatively wealthy Hindus invest more on assets like motorcycle and choose open defecation. They also argue that not only is using toilet important, it also matters if neighbours also use toilets.
You can read the full article here.