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Sustainable, safe sanitation demands unimpeded toilet usage. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Sustainable, safe sanitation demands unimpeded toilet usage. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Slum leaders key to push for toilets

  • Slum residents who spend more time with community leaders are more likely to use public toilets, finds a study from Delhi

Many Indians still defecate in the open despite a massive government push to end the practice. Can community leaders play a role in getting people to use toilets more? A study from Delhi shows that slum residents who interact more often with community leaders are more likely to use public latrines.

In their study, Tiffany Radcliff of Texas A&M University and YuJung Lee of Colorado State University find that slum leaders educate residents on the benefits of public toilets and also keep them updated on maintenance and repair works. This way, these leaders make slum residents more confident about public toilets.

By helping create social norms around the use of toilets, slum leaders bring about behavioural change.

The study is based on a 2017 survey of 810 families living in slums in Delhi. Sixty slum leaders were also interviewed.

A family’s willingness to use public toilets can also be influenced by their awareness of its health benefits and how much they prioritize proper sanitation over other slum problems. But the research shows that even in the absence of these factors, a family that interacts with a slum leader more often uses public toilets more.

While elected politicians grant funds for public toilets, they don’t really follow up on their use. This is where slum leaders step in. The study finds that interacting with them is more effective than interacting with political or religious leaders.

Slum leaders go about engaging with residents and educating them mainly through door-to-door visits. Given how much they are a part of their community, the authors suggest it might be more efficient for policymakers to make use of slum leaders and tap into existing social networks to promote sanitation measures such as public toilets, rather than creating extra layers of bureaucracy.

Also read: “Community interactions and sanitation use by the urban poor: Survey evidence from India’s slums"




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