Indian Census Reveals Population has More Cellphones than Toilets

mdiocuh galeals/CC BY 3.0

The latest figures from India's Census reveal some striking disparities between the population's access to basic human needs, such as a toilet and running water, and their access to modern communication devices.

Imagine if the next time you need to use the bathroom, you can't just go down the hall and close the door behind you, somewhere with privacy, where you can also wash your hands afterward. Instead, you have to go search out a place behind a bush or a tree, maybe somewhere in the open, maybe somewhere with a minimal amount of privacy, if you're lucky.

That's the case for a huge number of people in India, as they are more likely to own a cellphone than to have a toilet at home.

In this rapidly growing nation of 1.2 billion people, almost 50% of the population still defecate in the open, with no toilet in their homes or access to clean drinking water at home, yet 53% of the people have a cellphone and 47% have a TV.

"Open defecation continues to be a big concern for the country as almost half of the population do it. Cultural and traditional reasons and a lack of education are the prime reasons for this unhygienic practice. We have to do a lot in these fronts." - Registrar General and Census Commissioner C Chandramouli

For some of the population, the rapidly expanding middle class, India is a modern country, with easy access to the latest consumer goods. But for many others, it's a country without adequate infrastructure for basic needs, such as a sanitary place to go to the bathroom in private, or a dependable source of safe drinking water.

"The government is trailing people a little bit in the sense that ... in order to provide public goods like sanitation, like water ... what you need is for the state to be organized, to be able to transform this increase in incomes into an increase in state revenues, which can then be used to provide these kinds of public goods." - Partha Mukhopadhyay, economist at Center for Policy Research

There's a lot to be said for the proliferation of cell phones in India, as access to that means of communication can have quite a positive impact in people's lives, both on personal and financial levels. But there are a number of individual and community health risks which come from not having access to proper sanitation - from being exposed to diseases on a small scale by personal exposure, to contamination of groundwater because of the continued practice of open defecation.

If you'd like to learn more about the lack of sanitation and clean water in many places throughout the world, and maybe even do something to help change things, a good place to begin is at Water.org.

Tags: Cell Phones | Gadgets | India | Toilets

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