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Poor sanitation pulls India's GDP down by 6.4%

A World Bank study has quantified the economic loss of lack of toilets and sanitation facilities in the country at $54 billion, as a consequence of treatment cost for diseases, early deaths, lost productivity, and loss in tourist revenue among other factors

An April 2010 UN study showed that more people in India have access to mobile phones than to proper sanitation facilities. Now comes a World Bank study that has quantified the cost to the country due to poor sanitation.

The study ‘Economic Impact of Inadequate Sanitation in India’, conducted by the Bank’s South Asia Water and Sanitation Unit, says lack of toilets and decent sanitation costs India nearly $54 billion (Rs 24,000 crore), or 6.4% of its GDP a year, mainly through premature deaths, especially of children, treatment for hygiene-related illnesses, and lost productivity.

Lack of proper sanitation creates major health risks, raising the threat of potentially fatal illnesses such as typhoid and malaria.

India’s situation is worse than many other Asian countries. The annual per person losses from poor sanitation is $9.3 in Vietnam, $16.8 in the Philippines, $28.6 in Indonesia, and $32.4 in Cambodia. But in India it is $48 on a per capita basis, showing the urgency with which India needs to improve sanitation.

“For decades we have been aware of the significant health impacts of inadequate sanitation in India,” said Christopher Juan Costain, leader of the World Bank’s South Asia Water and Sanitation Programme. It is children and poor households that bear the brunt of poor sanitation, he added. The poorest fifth of the urban population bears the highest per capita economic impact of Rs 1,699, much more than the national average per capita loss due to inadequate sanitation, which is Rs 961. Among rural households too, the poorest fifth bears the highest per capita loss in the area, at over Rs 1,000.

Just 366 million people -- around a third of the population -- had access to proper sanitation said the study (700 million have access to mobile phones). According to government calculations, fewer than 30% of villagers in rural areas have access to toilets.

The cost of treating diseases related to poor sanitation such as diarrhoea, malaria and intestinal worms, and early deaths and other health-related impacts, costs India $38.5 billion annually. There are 57.5 crore cases of diarrhoea of which 4.5 lakh result in death.

Productive time lost to access sanitation facilities costs $10.7 billion (20% of the total share) and drinking-water-related impacts costs $4.2 billion (7.8%).

The Planning Commission has estimated that although 49% of the country’s urban population has access to a sanitary excreta disposal facility, only 28% have a sewerage system (partial, without treatment facility in many cases), and 21% only a low-cost sanitary latrine facility. About 60% of the generated solid waste is collected and disposed of; only 50% is done in a sanitary manner.

Costain said the Indian economy loses $260 million (over Rs 1,000 crore) in tourism revenues due to poor sanitation, as tourists are reluctant to come to India due to lack of sanitation facilities.

India’s centrally driven Total Sanitation Campaign aimed at upgrading rural sanitation was launched in 1999 and claims 67% coverage (reported by states through an online monitoring system maintained by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation), up from 21.92% in the 2001 census.  Minister of State for Rural Development Agatha Sangma, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha in December 2010, said the project would achieve its objectives by 2015.  

Source: Hindustan Times, December 21, 2010
            livemint.com, December 21, 2010
            PTI, December 10, 2010