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Is Modi going down the drain?

Posted by: Brian Dennehy
Membership level: Free
World Toilet Day on 19th November is no laughing matter for 4.5 billion people worldwide. The inconvenient truth is that, globally:
  • 1.8 billion people use untreated drinking water
  • 892 million people practice open defecation
  • One fifth of schools do not provide any toilet facilities
  • 900 million schoolchildren have no handwashing facilities
The spotlight is on India and people will certainly use this as an indicator to measure Prime Minister Modi’s success. Out of the 892 million who practice open defecation globally, approximately 520,000,000 people live in India.[1]
Poor sanitation and contaminated water cause 80% of diseases in rural India, with diarrhoea the biggest causes of under-5 deaths, killing between 800,000 and one million children, hospitalising 900,000 and causing 327,000 visits to clinics each year.[2]
“A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary in 2019,” said Narendra Modi as he launched the Swachh Bharat Mission/Clean India Mission in October 2014.
But as India undergoes its final year to complete the construction of 90 million household and community toilets, and eliminate open defecation across the country, how much has actually been achieved? (As of 15/11/2018. Live numbers here):
  • 88,508,005 household toilets built
  • 523,560 defecation free villages
  • 25 defecation free states
The Indian government has developed a mobile app to track progress towards this goal. As well as being able to track real time sanitation coverage in each village, the app is also being used to rate the villages based on cleanliness.[3]
These figures are certainly a vast improvement from previous years, however it remains an issue that everybody is still pushing for quantity over quality. New toilets are often not plumbed in or simply not used.
One of the key challenges facing India, and other countries where poor sanitation remains a serious problem, is combining the functionality that toilets need to reduce the spread of infectious diseases while remaining cost-effective enough to be provided for poor communities. For example, toilets commonly found in developed nations are largely impractical in developing countries due to the large volume of water required. Also, a lack of waste disposal systems make designing a next-generation toilet a considerable challenge.[4]
Building toilets is just the first step in solving the problem – the government also has to get people to use them properly. Here are some of the ways in which they are trying to change attitudes:
  • One council is trying to encourage better habits amongst children by “paying them to poo”…
  • …“we are giving one rupee (less than 1p) to the children per day”
  • Prospective brides have been urged to shun potential grooms whose villages do not have toilets
Whether Prime Minister Modi has done enough to eradicate this widespread issue will be put to the test in India’s general election early next year.
The Clean India Mission and World Toilet Day generally, highlight something much bigger for investors. While nothing will happen overnight, the potential benefits to both ordinary Indian people and investors is huge.
Last but not least, progress with toilets will continue to be a key measure of Mr Modi’s overall success. In all senses, there is some progress, but there is still much more to do.
  • Listen to our October teleconference where the “Brian on the couch” segment focuses on opportunities in India
  • Download a copy of our India eBook



Topic: Market commentary


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