More Toilets Would Help Save Lives In India

The controversy in India over “a self-evident statement by the rural development minister that India needs toilets more than it does temples … is a perfect example of the stupidity that too often dominates Indian politics,” GlobalPost senior correspondent Jason Overdorf writes in his blog “On India.” He continues, “Rather than shutting up and getting down to the business of improving lives, we’re descending into pointless name-calling and protesting over something on which, quite frankly, everybody secretly agrees.” Noting India has temples “just about anyplace that isn’t moving too fast,” he says,”[O]ne of the most salient differences between toilets and temples is that people will donate land and money and labor to build temples, they will fight for them tooth and nail, and the government will let them get away with virtually any skirting of the law in the process. Toilets? Not so much.”

“And however valuable temples may be in promoting desirable values or preserving cultural traditions …, it would be very difficult to argue that the addition of another hundred thousand or so would actually SAVE LIVES. Meanwhile, that’s patently obvious when it comes to toilets,” Overdorf writes. He says UNICEF estimates there are 638 million people in India who defecate in the open, and 44 percent of mothers dispose of their children’s feces in the open, which raises the risk of water contamination and therefore diarrheal disease, a leading cause of child mortality. Noting that hand washing can reduce the risk of contamination, Overdorf concludes, “One way that can be encouraged: Toilets that actually provide soap and water. I wouldn’t even object if somebody built a temple to go with each and every one” (10/8).

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