India's rivers have been turned into open sewers by 638 million Indians without access to toilets, according to rural development minister Jairam Ramesh. He was reacting a UNICEF report that says Indians make up 58% of the world population which still practices open defection, and the sense of public hygiene in India is the worst in South Asia and the world.
India(638m) is followed by Indonesia (58m), China (50m), Ethiopia (49m), Pakistan (48m), Nigeria (33m) and Sudan (17m). In terms of percentage of each country's population resorting to the unhygienic practice, Ethiopia tops the list with 60%, followed by India 54%, Nepal 50%, Pakistan 28%, Indonesia 26%, and China 4%.
18 percent of urban India still defecates in open while the percentage of rural India is as high as 69 percent of the population. It is the key reason why India carries among the highest infectious disease burdens in the world.
The number of open defecators in rural India alone is more than twice those in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report by DFID, the UK's Department for International Development.
The World Bank has estimated that open defecation costs India $54 billion per year or $48 per head. This is more than the Government of India’s entire budget for health.
The UNICEF report says that with only four more years to go until 2015, a major leap in efforts and investments in sanitation is needed to reach the targets of Millennium Development Goals.
After the embarrassing headlines, it appears that Minister Ramesh is ready to step up the efforts to improve sanitation. He is quoted by Times of India as saying that "we are going to focus now on `nirmal gram abhiyan' -- today 25,000 nirmal grams are a tiny fraction of 6 lakh villages. These nirmal grams are in Maharashtra and Haryana. Maharashtra is a success of social movements while Haryana an example of determined state government action."
Here's a video clip of Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh saying "if there was a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth, India would win it hands down":
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