New Delhi: More than 732 million Indians still defecate in the open or in unsafe and unhygienic toilets, three years after the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission), said a report released on Thursday.

The ‘State of the World’s Toilets 2017’ report by WaterAid, which works on issues related to water and sanitation, said the situation was worse for women and girls, 355 million of whom are still waiting for a toilet, the report said.

The statistics also depict India as the country with the maximum number of people (around 56%) without toilets and basic sanitation.

“In India, a staggering 355 million women and girls are still waiting for a toilet; if they were all to stand in a queue, it would stretch around the Earth more than four times. According to government, under Swachh Bharat Mission, 52 million household toilets were built between October 2014 (since its launch) and November 2017. India also ranks in the top ten for reducing open defecation and improving access to basic sanitation. But there is still a long way to go," said the report.

Swachh Bharat was launched on 2 October 2014, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, to eliminate the practice of open defecation by ensuring a toilet in every household.

“Reaching all 1.28 billion people in India with basic services is a huge challenge. The Indian government has a target of eliminating open defecation by the end of 2019. The work is far from done, and the need stretches beyond households to schools and hospitals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two in five health centres lack basic sanitation, putting patients and health workers at risk of infection," it said.

Globally, the report highlighted that one in three people still have no access to a decent toilet. For more than 1.1 billion women and girls, it results in an increased risk of poor health, limited education, lost opportunities, vulnerability and the embarrassment of defecating in the open. China, Nigeria and Ethopia follow India in terms of lack of basic sanitation.

“While India is making rapid progress in improving sanitation under the ongoing Swachh Bharat Mission, we need to ensure inclusion, recognising the importance of safe and accessible toilets specific to the needs of the differently abled, the elderly, the poorest, as well as women and adolescent girls," V.K. Madhavan, chief executive of WaterAid India, said.

“The lack of toilets affects women and girls disproportionately at every stage in their life, increasing their health risks manifold, while adversely impacting on their safety and dignity. We need to recognise that ending open defecation is but one step towards ensuring safely managed and sustainable sanitation," he said.

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