A billion people in the world defaecate in the open, largely because they have no toilet. Half of them are in India. The graph below comes from an atlas of the Sustainable Development Goals produced by the World Bank.
The government of India hoped, five years ago, that it could end open defecation by 2019. It is well behind that target, but claims that 72.3 million toilets have been constructed, out of a target of 110 million. Reports from India number such things in lakh, a unit of 100,000; 72.3 million is 723 lakh. The position was slightly confused last month by the Prime Minister’s claim that the state of Bihar had constructed 8.5 lakh, that is 850,000, toilets in a week – it seems that the toilets have been constructed, but not so quickly.
The Economist is sceptical about the figures more generally; some of the toilets that were supposed to be constructed appear not to exist, the claims of one state to have ended the practice have been shown to be false, and besides some people continue to defaecate in the open even though they have a toilet. In Bangladesh, improved sanitation has been linked to education about hygiene, to great effect. Regardless, the government deserves some credit for the priority it has given to issues that are intended to make people’s lives better – including housing, electricity, financial inclusion and sanitation.