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Achieving Total Sanitation: Measuring the Problem


14 October 2013

With elections around the corner an issue that seems to have caught everyone’s attention is the poor state of sanitation in India. According to Census 2011 findings, only 30.7 percent of rural households have access to sanitation. Given the current unit cost of construction, this would entail over 1 lakh crores of additional expenditure (19 times the expenditure incurred from 1999-2011) to cover 2011 household levels. Construction aside, usage figures are even more dismal. A UNICEF and WHO report[1] found that in 2008 a mere 21 percent of rural India uses improved sanitation facilities[2].

While the Government of India (GOI) has taken some important steps in trying to address the problem of rural sanitation (emphasising the need to focus on community outcomes through the launch of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA); a significant 425 percent increase in allocations for the rural sanitation sector in the 12th Five Year Plan; enhancing allocations for Information, Education and Communication (IEC) etc), one the biggest challenges in the rural sanitation sector is that we still don’t have a clear idea on what are we measuring.

Let me explain what I mean.

The first step in building an outcomes based delivery system for sanitation (which the NBA hopes to achieve), is the need to develop a database on outcomes. In other words, it needs a process of assessing needs on the ground, setting targets and measuring achievement.

However, while the concept of Open Defecation Free (ODF) communities as an objective has been part of the guidelines since the start of Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC)[3] in 1999, the only estimation of usage came in 2008 with the introduction of the Nirmal Gram Puraskar- a financial reward given to Gram Panchayats (GPs) for achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. The NGP guidelines defined ODF as the complete elimination of open defecation within the jurisdiction of a Gram Panchayat. In other words – all members of a GP have access to and are using a sanitation facility.

The launch of the NGP portal was thus the first step in developing a database on outcomes. However, a closer look at the NGP database points towards issues of data quality. First determining the accuracy of ODF status requires multiple checks and verification – a point realised by GOI itself when NGP tightened its verification process and found a decrease in the number of NGPs awarded (the number dropped to 4556 in 2009, 2808 in 2010 and 2857 in 2011.) Second, an effective database requires real-time monitoring. In the absence of efforts to build capacity at the local level and ensure regular monitoring and assessment, the sustainability of the ODF status remains a question. For instance, a recent report of the Planning Commission[4] found that 13.8 percent households of GPs awarded with the NGP had some of their family members still resorting to open defecation.

In the absence of reliable data on usage, objectives under the rural sanitation programme have been defined in two ways:- a) The progress in construction of toilets based on annual project targets determined on the basis of Annual Project Implementation Plans (APIPs) and, b)The number of toilets built in comparison with the total number of households. Both measures however have their problems. While APIPs are meant to be an aggregation of demand based on needs assessed by GPs, in actuality they reflect annual targets for toilet construction. Given that these targets can change yearly, the result is the lack of a uniform and standardized measure of “achievement”. For instance: while the Project Objectives for Kerala were 10.7 lakh household toilets, the achievement showed 11.3 lakh toilets constructed. In essence the achievement rate would be over 100 percent. But according to Census figures for 2011, there are still 2.8 lakh households without access to toilets.

Similarly, even in terms of measuring against number of households, NBA’s current design does not have a mechanism to measure increase or decrease in rural populations or the possibility of slip-back habitations or toilets no longer in existence or defunct. For instance, while the number of households has increased by 2.96 crores between Census 2001 and Census 2011, the NBA achievement rates continue to benchmark themselves against Census 2001 household numbers, resulting in an overestimation of achievement at close to 80 percent!! (Remember Census 2011 found only 30.7 households have toilets).  (See Table 1 for more details)

Recognising that increasing population could be a factor driving these differences, the TSC achievement rate was normalised for rural household numbers for 2011. The results suggest that when the new household numbers are used, the achievement rate drops significantly, however, there continues to be a difference between the two rates of achievement. For details on methodology see here.

Table 1: Differences in coverage

States Census 2011 (toilet coverage) TSC reported physical achievement  (based o 2001 household numbers TSC with new population denominator
Andhra Pradesh 32.2 75.9 67.6
Bihar 17.6 38.7 28.9
Chhattisgarh 14.5 60.2 46.1
Gujarat 33 95.4 83
Haryana 56.1 100 82.8
Himachal Pradesh 66.6 100 83.7
Jharkhand 7.6 47.4 38.5
Karnataka 28.4 73.9 62.7
Kerala 93.2 100 120.7
Madhya Pradesh 13.1 85.1 62.1
Maharashtra 38 78 65.9
Odisha 14.1 58.9 49.1
Punjab 70.4 77.5 64.9
Rajasthan 19.6 63.6 48
Tamil Nadu 23.2 96.7 83.6
Uttar Pradesh 21.8 96.7 78.1

Source: Census(2011), Availability and Type of Latrine Facility: 2001-2011, available online at: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/hlo/Data_sheet/India/Latrine.pdf; and calculated from TSC Portal, Physical Report, Year-wise percentage achievement (including census), available online at: http://tsc.gov.in/tsc/Report/Physical/RptPerwiseAchCensus_net.aspx?id=PHY

To add to the confusion, NBA has launched a Baseline survey in 2012. This survey is meant to provide revised (and hopefully more comprehensive) data on coverage and includes parameters such as functional and defunct toilets. However, a comparison of states which have nearly completed the survey with Census 2011 still points to differences in assessment numbers. (See Table 2).  Further, Baseline 2012 still does not give any estimate on toilet usage.

Table 2: Comparison with Baseline Survey 2012

State Name %age of baseline survey entries complete %age of households not having toilets according to Baseline survey 2012 %age of households not having toilets according to Census 2011
Jharkhand 100 76.21 92.4
Kerala 100 5.32 6.8
Nagaland 100 50.22 30.8
Punjab 100 24.83 29.6
Rajasthan 100 72.70 80.4
Karnataka 99.93 65.03 71.6
Maharashtra 99.79 51.97 62
Madhya Pradesh 99.7 73.72 86.9
Uttar Pradesh 99.61 65.04 78.2
Chhattisgarh 99.03 60.56 85.5

Source: TSC Portal, Baseline Survey 2012, -Complete Entry Status. Available online at: http://tsc.nic.in/BLS2012/Report/Rpt_NBAS2012DataEntry.aspx Accessed on 17.07.2013, and Census (2011), Availability and Type of Latrine Facility: 2001-2011, available online at: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/hlo/Data_sheet/India/Latrine.pdf

The analysis above highlights that while policies may be designed in a manner which wants to focus on outcomes, in the absence of set benchmarks on outcomes, it is hard to imagine how these policies will be able to address the problem of rural sanitation. If total sanitation is our goal – let’s start with at least finding an accurate measure of determining the problem!

[1] UNICEF and WHO(2012), “Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation”. Available online at: www.unicef.org/media/files/JMPreport2012.pdf Accessed on: 12.08.2013

[2]The JMP defines “improved sanitation” as facilities that are used and ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. They include a flush or pour-flush toilet/ latrine to piped sewer system, septic tank, pit latrine, ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine; a pit latrine with slab; and a composting toilet.

[3] The TSC has now been rechristened the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan

[4]Planning Evaluation Organisation (2013) – Evaluation Study on Total Sanitation Campaign.

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