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Open defecation exposes people to faecal pathogens that cause diarrhoeal diseases, which killed over 335,000 people in India in 2012. ( Indranil Bhoumik/Mint)
Open defecation exposes people to faecal pathogens that cause diarrhoeal diseases, which killed over 335,000 people in India in 2012. ( Indranil Bhoumik/Mint)

How Swachh Bharat toilets save costs

Toilets built under the campaign help rural households gain 47,000 a year by reducing deaths, limiting medical costs and preventing income loss

The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched in 2014 to end open defecation by building toilets in poorer homes. A recent study shows that getting a toilet helped households save roughly 47,000 a year on average. This was the result of averting premature deaths, saving medical expenses and avoiding a loss in earnings, among other factors.

To study the monetary benefits of the campaign, researchers at UNICEF and Indian consultancy Neerman look at over 10,000 rural homes across 12 states that had a toilet built under the scheme during 2014-2017.

Open defecation exposes people to faecal pathogens that cause diarrhoeal diseases, which killed over 335,000 people in India in 2012. Toilets prevented those premature deaths, thus helping wage-earners live longer. This amounts to an annual gain of around 16,000.

Savings on medical expenses—such as doctor fees and pharmacy costs—come to roughly 8,000 a year. A person loses around two days of work from falling sick. Not losing earnings due to this translates to a gain of around 2,000 a year.

The researchers also put a value on the time saved by not having to walk to a place far away to defecate at around 21,000 per year. The property value grows from having a toilet on the premises—a one-off gain of about 19,000.

The government funds the toilets, but households also invest time and money to add facilities such as septic tanks. However, the authors show that the benefits exceed such costs. Households get nearly a two-fold return on their spending.

The government declared India free of open defecation in 2019. But the study finds that potential monetary benefits of an open defecation-free environment have only been partially realized with toilets. A proper system will also need to be put in place to manage solid and faecal waste from these toilets.

Also read: “Comparison of the Costs and Benefits of the Clean India Mission"

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