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India, Andhra Pradesh: Why families choose toilets – to protect older parents and younger daughters

Published on: 24/09/2011

Why do families build toilets? If the family tradition for many generations has been to defecate in the open – using local woods or accepted sites, then what is the incentive to make a break and opt for a toilet instead?

Concern for daughters and for elderly relatives are two factors often mentioned by families as motivating factors, especially as ‘safe’ places to defecate outside disappear.

In Venkatapuram village in the Kammam District of Andhra Pradesh Suresh added a toilet to his home in the 1990s, mostly because of concern about his mother, Rangamma. “The biggest difficulty was that my mother had to go a long distance to find a place. It was really getting very difficult.”

Data from both the WASHCost project and the (new) Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation show that existing government norms underestimate the real cost of toilets. Subsidies for the poor, which are supposed to cover 90% of toilet costs in reality cover less than 40%. Poor families are either stuck with half-built, unused toilets, or have to take out a considerable loan to finish them. Replacing subsidies by low interest or no interest loans may be a better option as it could stimulate a market in low cost toilets.