India lags in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities: Study

The Harvard University study is based on the performance of India’s 543 parliamentary constituencies on — unsafe disposal of child stool, unimproved drinking water supply and sanitary facilities

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 01 October 2019

India continues to lag in proper drinking water, sanitation and hygeine facilities, according to a new study by Harvard University.

Parliament constituencies in Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh shared the highest burden of unsafe child stool disposal.

Three constituencies in Odisha — Bargarh (95.85 per cent), Jajapur (95.65 per cent) and Kandhamal (95.28 per cent) — had the highest prevalence of unsafe child stool disposal in the country, showed the study.

The findings are based on the performance of India’s 543 parliamentary constituencies on three important indicators of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) index: Unsafe disposal of child stool, unimproved drinking water supply and sanitary facilities. 

The data was collected by generating precision-weighted estimates of each indicator at the constituencies-level, based on the recently developed methodologies of linking cluster GPS data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2016, to potential constituencies.  

“Unsafe child stool disposal has received limited attention in sanitation policy in India with the country’s historic focus on household toilet infrastructure,” according to the paper published in the Journal of Development Policy and Practice.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines (child) safe stool disposal as “when the child uses a toilet/latrine; and/or the faeces is put/rinsed in the toilet/latrine or buried”.

Based on mothers’ report in the NFHS-4, if the child’s faeces were left in the open/not disposed of, put/rinsed into a drain/ditch, or thrown in the garbage, the disposal was coded as ‘unsafe’.

The fourth round of NFHS conducted in 2015-2016 was based on a total sample size of 628,900 households across India. The survey was designed to provide estimates of key indicators related to population health and nutrition at the national, state and district levels.

Sanitary facilities were very poor in parliamentary constituencies in northern and eastern India. Budaun (90.69 per cent) and Ambedkarnagar (89.80 per cent) in Uttar Pradesh and Bhagalpur (87.14 per cent) in Bihar were the constituencies with the highest prevalence of poor sanitation facilities.

On the other hand, constituencies in Lakshadweep (0.19 per cent), Sikkim (0.91 per cent) and Idukki (0.96 per cent) and Alappuzha (0.97 per cent) in Kerala had the lowest prevalence of poor sanitary facilities.

Interestingly, Maharashtra, which seems to perform far better on WASH indicators than Uttar Pradesh, had far more constituencies with high burden of poor sanitary facilities than the latter, the study showed.

The paper also found a strong correlation between unsafe child stool disposal and poor sanitary facilities.   

Monitoring of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) data at the constituencies’ level will allow parliamentarians to effectively improve WASH conditions in their constituencies and the approach is better than that focussed on state or district means, the researchers suggested.   

Parliamentary constituencies in north-eastern and southern India — particularly in Manipur, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — shared the highest burden of poor drinking water source.

The constituencies with the highest prevalence of poor drinking water were Inner Manipur (64.17 per cent) and Outer Manipur (59. 86 per cent) in Manipur; and Kadapa (46.62 per cent) and Kakinada (42.73 per cent) in Andhra Pradesh.

Constituencies in the northern and eastern parts of India had the lowest prevalence of unimproved drinking water sources. Fatehgarh Sahib (0.75 per cent), Ludhiana (0.58 per cent), and Jalandhar (0.35 per cent) in Punjab shared the lowest prevalence of poor drinking water. 

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