It’s not to be sniffed at: Bangladesh lauds success in creating indoor toilets

Answering nature’s call was once a nightmare for Rashida Begum, who had to creep around the jungle for a suitably private spot. Her home had no toilet, like the thousands of others in her crowded cluster of farming villages outside the capital. In just over a decade, that’s all changed, in her neighborhood and many others. Through a dogged campaign to build toilets and educate Bangladeshis about the dangers of open defecation, the densely populated South Asian nation has managed to reduce the number of people who defecate in the open to just 1% of the 166 million population, according to the government — down from 42% in 2003.

Once it was our habit to go to the fields or jungles. Now, it is shameful to us. Even our children do not defecate openly anymore. We do not need to ask them; they do it on their own.“

Rashida Begum

Bangladesh’s success in sanitation — something so far unattained by its wealthier neighbor to the south, India — came from a dogged campaign supported by 25% of the country’s overall development budget. "The government has made a huge commitment,” said Akramul Islam, director for water, sanitation and hygiene of the development NGO Brac. The government’s engineers also worked with village councils and charities to spread the message on how toilets are key to better health. Rising incomes — moving from an average of $1,154 a year in 2012-13 to $1,314 in the past fiscal year, according to the World Bank — also helped to drive demand, Islam said.

The government decided that funds should go to the extreme poor who do not have latrines. So that basically gives a big push from the public sector for spending on sanitation.

Sanitation official Akramul Islam