Water for Life Voices

Open defecation

Open defecation Eliminating open defecation, a practice strongly associated with poverty and exclusion, is critical to accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) sanitation target. Open defecation perpetuates the vicious cycle of disease and poverty and is an affront to personal dignity.

Those countries where open defecation is most widely practised have the highest numbers of deaths of children under the age of five, as well as high levels of undernutrition, high levels of poverty and large disparities between the rich and poor. There are also strong gender impacts: lack of safe, private toilets makes women and girls vulnerable to violence and is an impediment to girls’ education.

In March 2013, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations issued a call to action on sanitation that included the elimination of the practice of open defecation by 2025.

  • More than one third of the global population – some 2.5 billion people — do not use an improved sanitation facility, and of these 1 billion people still practice open defecation.
  • Where efforts are made, progress is possible. Between 1990 and 2012, open defecation decreased from 24% to 14% globally. South Asia saw the largest decline, from 65% to 38%. Some countries stand out as examples. Efforts undertaken in Ethiopia have seen a decrease from 92% to 37%. Cambodia and Nepal have experienced similar declines.
  • Globally, open defecation remains a predominantly rural phenomenon: 902 million people in rural areas, more than a quarter of the rural population, still practise open defecation, and 9 out of 10 people who practise open defecation live in rural areas.
  • India continues to be the country with the highest number of people (597 million people) practising open defecation.
  • Where women must defecate in the open, they run the risk of sexual assault or rape. Lack of access to adequate, private sanitation, especially during menses, often leads women to leave education, which limits their opportunities for work and self-determination.

>> Access to a selection of UN publications on open defecation

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