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Toilets in Rural Karnataka – A peer effect?

In my previous post, I had taken a look at how sanitation improved in rural Karnataka and India over the decade of 2001 to 2011. Three broad categories of districts had emerged in Karnataka, and a relationship was visible between a district’s starting position on toilet ownership and how well it improved.

Going by the spirit that drove the previous analysis, I go a level deeper and more granular, and take a look at Karnataka’s taluks (or sub-district units) to see how things are changing in rural sanitation.

Karnataka Rural Sanitation - Improvement in Districts and Taluks

The above graph tries to see just that: where taluks and districts were in 2001, and how much they improved over 2001-2011. It is immediately apparent that taluks follow the districts of Karnataka in their behaviour: there again appears to be a strong link between where a taluk is starting from in terms of toilet ownership, and how much it has improved in the past 10 years.

If we simplify the first graphic by removing the district data points,  the positions of all 176 taluks of Karnataka are more clearly visible.

Karnataka Rural Sanitation - Sanitation Trap

What one can see is that when the starting point of a taluk is below 15% toilet ownership, the improvements are never phenomenal. When the starting point crosses about 20%, many more high performers become visible. It is possible that taluks and districts have to get out of a “poor sanitation trap” before being able to improve significantly.

Complementing the trend, every district that started with 40% toilet ownership or higher, improved by at least 20 percentage points, underscoring the relationship between the two. While the trends are easy enough to visualise and comprehend, the reasons for them may be complex and difficult to be certain of.

One reason for this link between starting position and improvement in sanitation could be the peer effect. The peer effect is where someone’s behaviour is influenced by those around them. It has been well studied in the field of education, where it’s been found that a student’s educational outcome is strongly linked to his or her peer group and the group of friends. ‘Peer pressure’  is a form of this as well, although mostly with negative connotations, where people pick up habits and mannerisms from their peers.

Coming to toilets in Karnataka, imagine the 15-20% mark: it’s where 1 in 6 or 1 in 5 houses have a toilet. At those numbers, most people have a neighbour who owns a toilet and uses it. People who are still defecating in the open can not only imagine, but also see what the benefits and comforts of owning a toilet can do. Possibly, even the transition to using toilets (and cleaning them!) can become easier as people can learn from each other. Toilets also possibly become aspirational objects – in effect nudging more households to avail what subsidies come their way.

An alternate reason could be a lot more mundane: the link could simply be a result of the Nirmal Gram Puraskar award and the programmatic design of the government’s total sanitation campaign. A large focus of the campaign was to take villages that were doing reasonably well on sanitation – and push them to near-complete toilet ownership, making them “Open Defecation Free” (at least in theory). Here, individual toilet subsidies were coupled with a cash award to villages (and their panchayats) which managed to go open-defecation-free. While it is possible for the NGP to have had an effect on the correlation, it is unlikely that it can explain it entirely.

One way to decide between the two (and other!) possible reasons for the pattern of rural sanitation improvement is to go deeper once more look at it at the habitation level – at villages and hamlets and how they improved. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible with Census data. Either way, these results have a significant bearing on how we can improve rural sanitation in the coming decade, where we have to achieve a high, sustained improvement in sanitation but with reasonable public investment.

Data used in this post are available here: Karnataka Districts | Karnataka Taluks.

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Sanitation in Rural India and Karnataka – How has the needle moved?

Sanitation is among the most dismal and depressing topics in India, across the country. While sanitation in our cities comes with its own set of problems, rural sanitation in India is stuck a primitive stage where too few people have access toilets.

To promote toilet construction in villages, a ‘Total Sanitation Campaign’ was launched by the Government of India in 1999 where subsidies were given to households to construct individual toilets. By means of the subsidy, cash incentives for village leaders and other communication campaigns, the state has tried to promote toilet construction and the need for adequate sanitation for over a decade now. As one can expect, several problems such as  inadequate subsidies, red tape, corruption, plus a lack of demand for good sanitation have all plagued the campaign.

After the Census results came out last summer, there was a major controversy as the census numbers for toilet ownership violently disagreed with numbers that the government campaign was putting out.

This post takes a look at how the needle has moved on toilets and sanitation – be it because of the government scheme or in spite of it  –  in rural India and in rural Karnataka.

As of 2001, only 21.9% of rural Indian households had toilets. After a decade, the percentage of households increased to 30.7% – an increase of less than 10 percentage points. Below is a graph of how toilet ownership has improved across all states of India, arranged in an ascending order based on how things were in 2011.

Sanitation in Rural India - The Transition State

While Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram and Sikkim are states that are ahead of the rest on rural toilet ownership, it is important to note that Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim and Goa have improved the most in toilet ownership between 2001 and 2011. It is also interesting to note that relatively well-off states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka actually fall below the national average, with Andhra Pradesh barely doing better.

The above performance, however, has been talked of quite a few times by journalists, policymakers and other sectoral experts. To really understand how rural sanitation is improving, one needs to dig deeper and go more granular. This blog makes a preliminary attempt at doing so by looking at all the districts of the southern state of Karnataka.

As shown in the graph above, toilet ownership in rural Karnataka increased from 17.4% in 2001 to 28.4% in 2011. The spread of this growth across districts can be seen in the graph below.

Sanitation in Rural Karnataka - The Transition State

At the district level, a lot of fascinating trends emerge. Firstly, there’s a curious change in the gross “shape” of the graph, compared to the first graph of states. There appear to be three distinct types of districts in 2011: the poor, the middling, and the stellar performers.

The poor performers are the bottom 10-15 districts, that had a low base of toilets to begin with, and improved by only a few percentage points in the last decade. The middling performers are those that had between 10 and 20% toilet ownership in 2001, and all improved by about 10 percentage points since then – similar to the state average. The third type are the stellar performers, who had more than 20% toilets to begin with, and improved significantly over the decade.

However, the most prolific district in Karnataka is undoubtedly Bangalore (Rural) making a phenomenal leap of almost 50 percentage points in toilet ownership. This performance is perhaps attributable, at least in part, to a very proactive civil servant, Manjula Naik, who was the CEO of the district Zilla Panchayat for a while.

One can also posit that how well a district improves is also incumbent on what its starting position is. It is possible that districts with about 20-30% rural toilet ownership have reached a certain stage of socio-economic development, where the prosperity, aspirations, governance quality and cluster effects of some households having toilets spurs the rest in building toilets. If that is so, then the middling districts of Karnataka – Hassan, Mysore, Mandya, Davangere, Ramanagara and Haveri are all ripe for rapid improvements in rural sanitation.

Let us hope that smarter policies and better economic growth result in far greater improvements in the coming decade.

Some of the ideas in this post came about due to several conversations with my colleague, Vijay Krishna

Notes. While this post tracks the percentage of households with individual toilets, a small portion of rural households also has access to community toilets. It is the remainder of households who continue to practice open defecation, along with a subset of the former households who may not be using their toilets.

Data used in this post are available here: States | Karnataka Districts.

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Urban water supply without groundwater?

Earlier in January, Rohini Nilekani (Chairperson, Arghyam) was invited by the Finance Minister to a pre-budget consultation along with other social sector representatives. From Arghyam, we made a recommendation to the minister to Launch a Research Initiative to Mainstream Groundwater into Urban Water Supply:

Universal provision of clean water to all of India’s cities and towns is not feasible without adequate policy attention directed towards the sources of water. Groundwater has been and will remain an essential source of urban water supply, especially in smaller cities and towns. Surface water is an increasingly scarce and expensive resource and cannot be solely relied upon to service urban India and can exacerbate rural problems if promoted unchecked.

In the long run, it is paramount that groundwater be mainstreamed into urban water supply planning and policies. Today, however, there is insufficient knowledge to effectively tackle the twin problems of overexploitation and contamination that plague urban groundwater. There is insufficient data and research to formulate sound policies
that can incorporate groundwater sustainably and safely into drinking water supplies in cities.

It is proposed that in the Union Budget of 2013-14, the Government of India launch an Urban Groundwater Research Initiative with an allocation of Rs. 50 crores spent over three years, with a mandate of knowledge creation in the sector. Existing groundwater usage, its potential in augmenting other sources, the role of urban water bodies in groundwater recharge, and the nexus between sanitation and groundwater all need to be understood much better than they are today. A commitment to high quality research through partnerships with premier research institutions and competitive grants are necessary for robust policy formulation on urban groundwater. This will be a small investment that adds to the water security of India’s towns and cities.

You can read the full pre-budget note here [PDF]. You can also read about the same on India Water Portal and see Rohini Nilekani talk about it on Mint.

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Reaping what we sowed

On July 30, the lights went out all over North India, but that statement hides as much as it reveals. For many people in India, power supply (let alone uninterrupted power supply) is a distant dream. Many others prepare for outages in private, investing in diesel generators, inverters and more.

It is much harder, however, to build contingencies for something like the Delhi Metro. With Delhi crying out for power,

A Delhi Metro official said they received hydel power from Bhutan on a priority basis, and added that Delhi Metro was amongst the emergency services, including the Prime Minister’s residence and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), that were provided power. [When the lights went out

Apart from re-allocating power from the eastern and western grids, power bought from Bhutan helped India’s ailing infrastructure in a time of great need.

Much as we need to thank Bhutan for this, Indian foreign policy efforts over the last decade have played a crucial role in enabling this to happen. India has helped Bhutan set up three hydroelectric projects that are currently operational: a 1020 MW project at Tala, a 336 MW project at Chukha and a 60 MW project at Kurichhu, adding up to a total of 1,416 MW. July 30 was a day when India’s foreign aid efforts abroad overtly showed its benefits.

Bhutan is one of India’s close strategic and economic partners, and has been the single largest recipient of foreign aid going out India in the last decade. Apart from funding (and helping construct) hydroelectric power projects, India has also helped Bhutan in setting up cement industries, electricity transmission and distribution networks, highways and more. Below is a graph of annual estimates of development assistance provided to Bhutan by India, at constant and current prices. In 2008, Dr. Manmohan Singh visited the country, a year after India and Bhutan’s ‘Treaty of Friendship’ was renegotiated and signed. Aid efforts appear to have been stepped up since then.

India’s energy needs are increasing rapidly, but domestic ability to match that need has been insufficient. While India has found it difficult to set up hydroelectric power projects in Arunachal Pradesh, in Bhutan it finds a willing partner. Together, they are targeting 10,000 MW of power generation by 2020, with Indian plans of buying about half of it, or 5,000 MW of power for domestic consumption.

The 5,000 MW will constitute a small but essential step towards India’s goal of energy sufficiency.

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India in Space

India’s Mission to Mars got approved today by the Prime Minister, the Rs. 450 crore ($80 million) plan receiving a final nod. The Indian Space Research Organisation ISRO is to start preparing for launch in November 2013, around when Mars comes close to earth’s orbit.

Whenever any news comes out on India’s space exploration ventures, a host of arguments spring up centered around the question, “How can India spend money to go to space, when there is so much poverty in the country?”

In the first blog post here at The Transition State, I would defend India’s space programme in this “Space vs. Poverty” debate, a twenty-first century variant of the much older “Guns vs. butter” argument.

A central point of debate here is that the resources available at our disposal are finite, and it is up to us to use those wisely. Noted economist Bibek Debroy says the following on his blog:

All resources have opportunity costs.  If they are used for something, they cannot be used for alternative uses.  I am not sure what benefits arise from such missions, apart from the ego part and the elusive pursuit of superpower status.  These are resources that could have been used for primary schools and primary health centres.

So does India’s space programme give us more than just bragging rights? In particular, is there value in a mission to Mars, or in a far more expensive human spaceflight programme?

The answer is a resounding yes. The benefits are several, but I shall list just two of them here.

Space exploration is an extremely powerful agent of inspiration for young minds. Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to go into space on a Russian Soyuz rocket in 1984, and soon after entered our textbooks, our hearts and our minds, motivating an entire generation of school students in India. Indian-born Kalpana Chawla followed suit in 1997, sparking the imagination and ambitions another generation of students. An Indian human spaceflight programme is but a logical extension of the same. Launching spacecrafts seem to be one of a few things that India is quite good at, and it seems silly to stop doing it because we are not so good at many other things.

Neil deGrasse Tyson describes the power of space exploration like no other:

The mainstay of India’s launch vehicles is the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle or PSLV, which had its first successful launch back in 1996, and a total of 19 to date. Along with Indian satellites, the PSLV has also launched satellites from 18 foreign nations. Thanks to payload costs than are lower than that of many foreign spacecraft, Indian commercial space exploration has also grown significantly, leading to small but increasing revenue generated for the government.

These commercial launches are largely restricted to what are called “Low Earth Orbits” and don’t involve the trips to the moon or Mars. However, I would argue that it was the constant drive to tweak the PSLV before each launch, pushing the spacecraft to go faster, farther and with greater loads that has allowed Indian launch vehicles to be as robust and competent as they are today. A mission to Mars will test our scientists and engineers and demand an excellence of them that we could do with a lot more of.

Governance in India is in disarray. One can even make a case for doing more with our space programme, and getting more value out of it. Cutting costs and channeling them elsewhere, however, is far from the answer.

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