It was the first time I’d seen a sign in India that said ‘No urinate here’ and I thought India’s approach to outdoor hygiene had finally changed… but it was ‘shocking’ only because there was an adjacent live electrical cable.
For many new visitors to India the sight of Indians pissing and defecating in public is one that disgusts them and I’m not the biggest fan of it either, but there are reasons for this.
Earlier this week, a UN study reported there are more mobile phones in India than there are people with adequate access to sanitation. In other words, they don’t have their own khazee and HAVE to go where they can.
India has some 545 million mobile phones, enough to serve about 45% of the population, but only 366 million people or 31% of the population had access to improved sanitation in 2008.
And the situation has worsened considerably in the intervening two years. Ten million new mobile subscribers are being added every month; that’s certainly not the case with new toilets being dug into the ground.
But there may be reason to this madness. The UN report cites a rough cost of $300 to build a toilet, including labour, materials and advice and building such sanitation. A spokesperson goes on to say there is a return of more than $3 for every dollar spent on sanitation through reduced health costs and higher productivity.
Compare this to the effects of mobile penetration on a country’s prosperity. In December 2008 India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority of India surmised that a 1% higher mobile subscription rate would mean a $210 rise in GDP per capita, considerably more than the ROI on building a toilet.
Perhaps the Indian Government is running it past us (so to speak) and and that Indian squatting having a dump (and probably, like all of us, speaking on his mobile at the same time), is doing India a favour.
So, in the interim it’s proably best just to look away and realise that India may ‘urinate here, but there is a peculiarly Indian reason for it.