12 June 2014

Don't shit on your own doorstep

I was talking to a water and sanitation programme manager a few weeks ago, who seemed frustrated that these stupid people kept crapping everywhere. Why would you shit on your own doorstep? The programme had several "behaviour change" interventions (horrible phrase, slightly Orwellian no?), but really, how hard should it be to not shit in the open?

One of the great things about economics is that it does not assume that people are just being dumb. It treats people with respect, and assumes first that there is probably a good reason why they are doing something which might seem irrational. I don't really know enough about water and sanitation, but I was suspicious of the idea that these recalcitrant natives just couldn't figure out what was good for them.

Does this paper prove me right?
"latrine use constitutes an externality rather than a pure private gain: It is the open defecation of one’s neighbors, rather than the household’s own practice, that matters most for child survival. The gradient and mechanism we uncover have important implications for child health and mortality worldwide, since 15% of the world’s population defecates in the open. To put the results in context, we find that moving from a locality where everybody defecates in the open to a locality where nobody defecates in the open is associated with a larger difference in child mortality than moving from the bottom quintile of asset wealth to the top quintile of asset wealth."
The problem then is a "simple" collective action problem (simple in the sense of understanding the nature of the problem, not at all simple to solve). This isn't that complicated stuff.

HT: kim yi dionne


@cynan_sez said...

There's also research (too lazy to link...) showing that latrine use in the absence of handwashing (preferably with soap, but at minimum with some kind of abrasive eg sand) can result in worse morbidity/mortality outcomes than open defecation. Not engaging with shoddy WASH progs = can be the rational choice

Suvojit Chattopadhyay said...

Easy logic that sanitation needs to be 100% in a community - and not seen as an individual-based service delivery programme. Many programmes however approach it as a construction project, targeting specific sections of a habitation. And as in India, even though government policies talk of a whole-community approach, the implementation is all about household lists, construction material and delivery of subsidies

Hopefully this is conventional wisdom for WASH workers. Sad, if not.

Stephen Jones said...

See http://www.communityledtotalsanitation.org/page/clts-approach for the background to Community-Led Total Sanitation which addresses this as a collective action problem.

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