On 2 October, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an extraordinary campaign to clean the country’s public spaces and address India’s sanitation and cleanliness challenges.
Swacc Bharat – ‘Clean India’ – is part of a plan by the Indian Government to ensure every household has a toilet by 2019.
Starting the campaign on 2 October, government officers at all levels were asked to go to work on what is a national holiday commemorating Gandhi’s birth, to set an example by cleaning their offices, including the toilets. Prime Minister Modi has asked the whole country to address India’s sanitation and cleanliness challenges in time for the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth in 2019.
Gandhi famously said, “Sanitation is more important than independence.”
Resources, planning and commitment needed
However, to speed up India’s progress on sanitation, major resources, planning and commitment are needed. WaterAid research shows that about 16 million people a year in India are given access to a basic toilet. To reach everyone in the country by 2019, this rate will need to increase to more than 100 million people a year.
Nearly 800 million people in India do not have adequate toilets and nearly 600 million defecate in open places.
The World Bank estimated that India lost the equivalent of 6.4% of its GDP in 2006 because of poor access to sanitation. The country has seen only slow improvements since.
Cleanliness and sanitation a top priority
Prime Minister Modi has made cleanliness and sanitation a top priority for his government, aiming to promote economic growth, reduce healthcare costs, create employment and address an area of vulnerability in gender-based violence.
“The need could not be more pressing – over 186,000 children under the age of five in India die every year of diseases brought about by unsafe water and poor sanitation” says Neeraj Jain, Chief Executive of WaterAid India.
“With a focus on behaviour change as well as on infrastructure, and a country-wide focus, the Indian Government can save lives, bring dignity and add to India’s growing reputation as a modern, innovative nation.”