• Authors: Sangita Vyas, Dean Spears
  • Published in: Journal of Development Studies
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Exposure to open defecation has serious consequences for child mortality, health, and human capital development. South Asia has the highest rates of open defecation worldwide, and although the incidence declines as household income rises, differences across South Asian countries are not explained by differences in per capita income.

The rate of open defecation in sub-national regions of Bangladesh, India and Nepal is highly correlated with the fraction of the population that identifies as Hindu, in part because certain rituals of purity and pollution discourage having latrines in close proximity to one’s home.

Almost all open defecation occurs in rural areas, and this paper estimates how much the rate could be reduced if rural households in regions that have a higher fraction of Hindus, where open defecation is still common, altered their behaviour to reflect that of non-Hindu households in regions that are predominantly non-Hindu, where the rate of open defecation is much lower.

Using nonparametric reweighting methods, this paper projects that rural open defecation in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal could be reduced to rates of between 6 and 8 per cent, compared to the prevailing level of 65 per cent.