A recent article in The Hindu highlighted the fact that most of India will only achieve the millennium development goals (MDG) on sanitation long after 2015. While some states are expected to achieve the goal in 2015, others will take another 25 years, while some may take as long as 2060. Despite improvement in sanitation figures between 1990 and 2010, 67% of the rural population still had no access to sanitation in 2010. This major gap leaves room for innovative business models to develop appropriate sanitation products and services for both rural and urban India.

While it has made progress on water supply, a high percentage continue to defecate in the open

Going by the present pace of progress, India will achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs) on sanitation only by 2054. While some States had already achieved the target and some are close to it, other populous States such as Madhya Pradesh and Orissa will reach the target only in the next century, according to WHO and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMPWSS).

According to the JMPWSS’ report, which tracks the progress on drinking water and sanitation, 17 States, including Kerala, Haryana, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and most Union Territories, had already achieved the MDG target while Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh will achieve it in the next 10 years.

Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh are some States that will meet the MDG target in the coming 25 years, while Madhya Pradesh is expected to achieve the goal in 2105 and Orissa in 2160 unless special strategies are adopted to speed up the progress, the report has said.

The world has pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 from 1990 figures. Though India has already achieved impressive results on water supply, with 85 per cent of its people having access to safe drinking water, 51 per cent or 626 million people in the country defecate in the open, accounting for 60 per cent of the world’s total open defecations.

India has seen an improvement in the sanitation figures from 1990, when 75 per cent people defecated in the open as against 51 per cent in 2010. But this improvement is seen only in the urban settings, where 28 per cent had no access to toilets in 1990 as against 14 per cent in 2010. In the rural areas, 91 per cent had no access to sanitation in 1990 as against 67 per cent in 2010, indicating that it was the rich who had more access to sanitation.

Four out of every 10 people who have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990 live in China or India, and more than half of the 2.5 billion people without improved sanitation too live in these two countries. In India, 251 million people gained access to sanitation between 1990 and 2010 but the percentage continues to be low because of the annual increase in the population. Over 1.7 million (22% of the world total) children under five who died in 2010 were Indians, diarrhoea being one among the largest killer diseases and accounting for 13 per cent of the deaths. Worldwide, over 80 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are due to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.