Despite huge advances in recent decades, India is likely to miss its Millennium Development Goal target for household sanitation access by a wide margin. More than half of Indian households have no access to a sanitation facility, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, the majority are in rural areas. The alternative, open defecation, contaminates freshwater sources and spreads disease, particularly during floods. Furthermore, the horrifying rape and murder of two girls in May 2014 highlighted the terrible risks that girls and women face when they have no access to a nearby sanitation facility.

On 11 June 2014, India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, told the Lower House of the Indian Parliament : “By 2022, no Indian should be without a home, without clean water, without electricity and without a toilet”, reiterating a promise made by new President Pranab Mukherjee two days earlier.

In this op-ed article SEI’s Johan L. Kuylenstierna and Prakash Kumar, CEO of the WASH Institute in India, offer some insights on the varied challenges of successfully introducing sanitation in rural areas and the crucial role that “productive” or ecological sanitation can play in changing behaviours, boosting livelihoods and fulfilling rights. These insights were gained in a recent Sida-funded sanitation initiative in Bihar State.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation,