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World Bank approves $1.5 billion loan for toilets in India


The Swachh Bharat Mission received a significant boost on Wednesday with the World Bank approving a $1.5-billion loan to aid the government's efforts to end the practice of open defecation by 2019. The loan with a maturity of 18 years is being extended by the World Bank's International Bank of Reconstruction and Development. According to estimates, around 500 million people in rural India continue to defecate in the open. Of the 2.4-billion people globally who lack access to improved sanitation, 750 million reside in India.

The loan is meant for supporting the rural section of the Swachh Bharat Mission over five years, focusing not only on toilet construction but also on ensuring its usage. According to the World Bank, states and their implementing agencies will be given incentives for meeting performance standards. “Performance will be measured against the states' ability to reduce open defecation, sustaining their open defecation free status and improving solid and liquid waste management in rural areas. The financing mechanism promotes the leadership of the states, which will have flexibility in innovating and adopting their own delivery models."

According to Onno Ruhl, World Bank's country director for India, one in every 10 deaths in the country is linked to poor sanitation. “Studies show that low-income households bear the maximum brunt of poor sanitation. This project, aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Initiative of the government, will result in significant health benefits for the poor and vulnerable, especially those living in rural areas. Incentivising good performance by states and the focus on behavioral changes are two important components of this project," he added.

With research points to a link between toilet usage and social norms, the World Bank will also be providing $25 million for technical assistance to help develop the capacities of state governments to aid “implementing community-led behavioural change programs targeting social norms to help ensure widespread usage of toilets by rural households."

“This programme, built on lessons learnt from global and national sanitation projects, represents a fundamental change in approach and recognises the importance of coupling investments in the construction of toilets to its usage. For it to succeed, large-scale social mobilisation for behaviour change is critical at the community level," said Annette Dixon, World Bank's vice-president for south-Asia region.

Progress on key indicators will be measured by independent evaluations. These will be the basis of releasing incentive grants to states. Soma Ghosh Moulik, lead water and sanitation specialist and the project's task team leader, said: “Third-party assessments and regular monitoring will provide reliable information on the project's progress."

As data gathering is central to measuring progress on this front, the World Bank project will also fund activities, which will strengthen the current monitoring and evaluation system that will help capture timely and reliable information.

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