Indermit Gill and Subhrendu Pattanayak explore the results of recent research studying the adoption, and abandonment, of toilets in Odisha, India.
Last year, Bangladesh made news. In a joint report, UNICEF and the World Health Organization reported that it had virtually eradicated open defecation. Meanwhile, in neighboring India, 40 percent of people still defecated in the open—in the villages a whopping 58 percent did. The ratio had come down from nearly two-thirds in 2000, but in 2015, about 525 million Indians were still not using toilets. Progress since then hasn’t been great: Take a look at this 2018 report, summarized in this article. India clearly has a lot to learn from Bangladesh, and it better learn quickly if Prime Minister Modi’s signature sanitation initiative “Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan” is to succeed. But Bangladesh may also have something to learn from India. Since 2005, researchers at Duke University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of California at Berkeley, and RTI International have been studying the take-up of toilets in Odisha, a state of about 46 million people close to Bangladesh. Their findings should worry policymakers in developing countries (and movie stars and concerned cricketers) because they point both to rapid adoption and abandonment of toilets. It turns out that there are almost no serious assessments of the durability of sanitation interventions. The research summarized here—which is based on surveys of the same households in 2005, 2006, 2010, and 2016—aimed to address this problem.