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Promoting environmentally safe sanitation

Sep 17, 2009

ADB’s publication India’s Sanitation for All: How to Make It Happen assesses the progress in achieving safe sanitation for all under the total sanitation campaign. The document provides insights into the current sanitation services and offers recommendations to key stakeholders in promoting environmentally safe sanitation in the country.

India’s Sanitation for All: How to Make It Happen

Publisher: Asian Development Bank, 2009

Providing environmentally safe sanitation to millions of people is a significant challenge, especially in the world’s second most populated country. India may be “on track” in achieving the MDG sanitation target, yet there is much to be done to ensure safe sanitation for all.


An estimated 55% of all Indians, or close to 600 million people, still do not have access to any kind of toilet. Among those who make up this shocking total, Indians who live in urban slums and rural environments are affected the most.

In rural areas, the scale of the problem is particularly daunting, as 74% of the rural population still defecates in the open.

In urban areas the main challenge is to ensure safe environmental sanitation. Even in areas where households have toilets, the contents of bucket-latrines and pits, even of sewers, are often emptied without regard for environmental and health considerations.

Wastewater treatment capacity is also woefully inadequate, as India has neither enough water to flush-out city effluents nor enough money to set up sewage treatment plants.

As of 2003, it was estimated that only 30% of India’s wastewater was being treated.

This discussion paper examines the current state of sanitation services in India in relation to two goals. Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which calls on countries to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without improved sanitation facilities and India’s more ambitious goal of providing “Sanitation for All” by 2012, established under its Total Sanitation Campaign.

Health problems, economic loss is apparent due to poor sanitation in the country. For example water treatment costs, losses in fisheries production and tourism, welfare impacts, reduced school attendance, inconvenience, wasted time, and lack of privacy and security for women are deeper challenges.

The document cites successful sanitation programs in India like Sulabh International pay-and-use approach and socialised community fund-raising in Orissa.

It shows how successful public–private partnership (PPP) models can help to realise higher levels of service coverage and quality, sanitation.

Six recommendations have been cited in the report that can help key stakeholders address the significant obstacles in providing universal sanitation coverage in India.

  • Successful pro-poor sanitation programmes must be scaled up;
  • Investments must be customised and targeted to those most in need;
  • Cost-effective options must be explored;
  • Proper planning and sequencing must be applied;
  • Community-based solutions must be adopted where possible; and,
  • Innovative partnerships must be forged to stimulate investments.
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