Peer pressure builds more latrines than financial assistance

Sep 30, 2009

Government subsidies persuade some people to change habits, but social shame works even better, suggests a recent study of efforts to reduce elevated childhood death and disease rates blamed on the microbial pathogens that cause diarrhea in rural India.

"All this started with public health workers there just beating their heads against the reality of how sticky human behavior is and how hard it is to change it," said Subhrendu Pattanayak, an associate professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and Nicholas School of the Environment.

According to a report in the August issue of the Bulletin of the , of which Pattanayak was lead author, experts have disagreed "whether improved access to sanitation and other health technologies is better achieved through monetary subsidies or shaming techniques."

Shaming, a strategy first tried in Bangladesh, is an appeal to the emotions during group gatherings of local residents to access the impacts of unhygienic practices, Pattnayak said. Neighbors caught in open defecation, for example, may be taunted.

Pattanayak's evaluation focused on efforts to combine both shaming and reward tactics in the state of Orissa, which has a rate higher than average for India.

Health workers participating in a Total Sanitation Campaign had previously knocked on doors throughout India, handing out pamphlets designed to persuade individual households to install pit latrines. The poorer households were even offered construction subsidies that would reduce their costs to the U.S. equivalent of $7.50.

But after those initial efforts, followup studies found less than a quarter of the nation's population and less than 10 percent of residents of Orissa had "access to safe water and good sanitation," according to the report.

So Pattanayak worked with frustrated government officials and his collaborators at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., where he then worked. Collectively they designed a study, funded by the World Bank, to measure the effectiveness of what his report called "a social mobilization strategy."

Twenty Orissa villages were selected at random in 2006 for locally led efforts that included village "walks of shame" and "defecation mapping" that identified sources of contamination and their distances from drinking water supplies. As that study began, about 30 percent of the interviewed households reported a child younger than 5 years had experienced diarrhea within the previous two weeks.

Community based groups were empowered "to establish systems of fines, taunting or social sanctions to punish those who continued to defecate in the open," the report said.

As Total Sanitation Campaign workers organized these additional efforts, Pattanayak's study group remained behind the scenes gathering data through "before and after" health and sanitation surveys.

The results were striking when surveys from those 20 villages were compared with 20 other randomly selected communities where no social mobilization efforts were organized.

Although subsidies for latrine construction were available to residents below India's poverty line in all 40 villages, latrine ownership only rose in those undergoing shaming, according to the surveys.

Within those "shamed" communities, latrine ownership rose from 5 percent to 36 percent among families below the poverty line, and from 7 percent to 26 percent among households above it. Subsequent surveys by Orissa's state government showed that all households had installed latrines by 2007 in 10 of the 20 villages subjected to the shaming.

Statistical analysis suggests that subsidies were responsible for about one third of the improvements in those communities and shame for about two thirds, the report concluded.

Pattanayak, himself a native Indian whose general academic interest is environmental and development economics, thinks his countrymen generally understand how bad hygiene can relate to childhood disease. But they also feel a combination of fatalism and powerlessness.

"Many view the loss of a child every now and then to diarrhea and other stomach ailments as part of normal life," he said. "While some people recognize the connection and do something about it, and the rest also recognize it but find it too abstract compared to life's other problems.

"This is a typical story of why people don't do things that seem beneficial to others," he said. "You feel you are just a small part of the picture: 'If I do this there's some chance that things will improve.' But that is conditional on how many others also do something about it.

"That's the problem with environmental issues, whether they are health or non-health. It's how we end up with so much greenhouse gas in the air and pollution in our water."

Source: Duke University (news : web)

Explore further: US announces $840M to improve medical care

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Safe water? Lessons from Kazakhstan

Apr 29, 2008

Despite significant efforts to improve access to safe water and sanitation, a new report co-authored by an expert at The University of Nottingham, argues that much more needs to be done.

Latrines trounce toilets

Jun 17, 2008

While Americans may consider flush-and-forget-it indoor plumbing to be the pinnacle of sanitary science, the lowly latrine could be a far better solution for many parts of the developing world, say researchers at Michigan ...

Mangroves Save Lives In Storms

Apr 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study of storm-related deaths from a super cyclone that hit the eastern coast of India in 1999 finds that villages shielded from the storm surge by mangrove forests experienced significantly ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Fakeer
not rated yet Sep 30, 2009
This is probably the most bizarre psycho-social project I've seen in a while.

But I realized that despite the colorful terminology (like 'shaming') it really doesn't say anything new about the human condition. For that matter the defecation problem can be supplanted by any effort undertaken by any administrative anywhere in the world. It's not very different than asking "why don't more people ride the bus?".

Regardless of the stress factor (be it social, economic, emotional or psychological) that leads people to adopt a solution, the answer is always the same - humans cannot be coaxed into a public program, they have to be cornered into it.