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Get the facts about toilets and why they are so important for progress.

Toilet use is crucial to unlocking social and economic progress in India, and to saving the lives of thousands of children.

Toilet use in India

At the moment, 564 million people, that’s just under half the population in India, do not yet use a toilet. Instead, they go out in the open in open fields, railway tracks, garbage dumps, parks and roadside ditches. This is incredibly dangerous, as exposure to human waste causes diarrhoea and other diseases that can be deadly, especially for children.

In 2015 it was estimated that 2.4 billion people globally had no access to improved sanitation facilities. Of them, 946 million defecate in the open. Of these 564 million live in India.

In rural India, where 61% of the population defecate in the open, it is practised among all socio-economic groups. In urban India, 10% of the population practice open defecation. More than half the children living in slums in Delhi don’t use toilets.

Ending open defecation is not just about access to toilets it’s about generating demand for toilets and getting everyone to use them every single day. Open defecation is an age old practice that is seen as ‘normal’ in many communities. Team Swachh Bharat is a movement to create a new normal where everyone understands the importance of toilets and uses them.

Why toilets are important

Toilet use is essential to the survival and development of all children in India and around the world, as exposure to human waste causes diseases such as diarrhoea.

Every day, almost 400 children under five in India die from diarrhoea linked to poor sanitation and hygiene. India has the highest number of diarrhoea related deaths among children under five worldwide. Diarrhoea and other sanitation related diseases can prevent children from being able to absorb the nutrients in their food, leading to undernutrition.

Open defecation has also been linked to stunting. In India, almost 38% of all children under five are stunted, meaning their physical and cognitive development is reduced, often resulting in poor educational outcomes. The repercussions of stunting can be felt beyond the individual child and can impact entire communities and generations in terms of economic and social development. Stunted bodies, stunted brains, and stunted lives.

For women and girls, sanitation is important for their health, safety and dignity. For women and adolescent girls, toilets provide a space to manage their menstrual hygiene, and are an important measure in lowering the risk of harassment when defecating in the open around dusk and dawn.

Toilet use is not just important for the health of children, but for national progress. According to the World Bank, poor sanitation causes India economic losses amounting to 6.4% of India’s GDP in 2006 or USD 53.8 billion (Rs. 2.4 trillion) per year, which is equivalent to USD $43 for every Indian per year.

Toilets are essential for clean, and healthy communities and contribute to the social and economic development of India. Team Swachh Bharat supports the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission to improve sanitation for all by 2019.

Fast facts:

  • 564 million people in India do not yet use a toilet.
  • Almost 400 children in India die every day from diarrhoea linked to poor sanitation.
  • Poor sanitation is linked to stunting. In India, 4 out of 10 kids under 5 years of age.
  • The simple act of handwashing with soap before food and after defecation cuts diarrhoea disease by 40%.


causes diseases

How Open Defecation Causes Diseases