“Swachh Bharat Saved 3 Lakh Children”: Did PM Modi Misquote WHO?

Having achieved 90% of rural sanitation coverage, PM Modi is not entirely wrong in claiming that Swachh Bharat Mission saved 3 lakh children.

In his speech on the 72nd Independence day of the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi quoted World Health Organisation to say that the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has saved the lives of 3 lakh children.

PM's Claim : WHO said that because of India's Swachh Bharat Mission, 3 lakh children have been saved. If we did not have the Swachh Bharat scheme, those 3 lakh children would have died.

News reports have called the claim a misquotation of the WHO data.

BOOM looked at the WHO report quoted by the PM and found that while he was not factually to the point but was not entirely wrong in his claim either. Over the last 4 years, the Swachh Bharat Mission has made huge progress in ensuring rural households have access to toilets.

What did WHO say?

"WHO lauds India’s commitment to accelerated coverage of safe sanitation services which, assuming 100% coverage is achieved by October 2019, could avert up to 300 000 deaths due to diarrheal disease and protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) since the country launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia in a media release dated August 3, 2018. The release was carried by the Press Information Bureau as well.

This was based on the initial results of a model study on the health impact of the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) conducted by WHO. It also means that the study is not completed and the final results are not out yet. Moreover, the scope and reach of the study is not clear from the release nor is it clear why the initial results were released without completion of the whole study.

The estimate of 3 lakh lives being saved was based on the premise that 100% coverage is achieved by October 2019. But it can be safely assumed that if the country has already achieved 90% rural sanitation coverage (as of August 15, 2018 as per SBM Dashboard), it would have already started creating an impact by saving lives of children otherwise lost due to diseases. The target of 100% coverage is also expected to be completed as early as December 2018, said Parameswaran Iyer - Secretary, Ministry of Drinking water and Sanitation in April 2018.

Globally, diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of under-five mortality, while lack of clean water and sanitation is also a major contributor to malnutrition.

The UPA Vs NDA Debate

A baseline survey conducted by states in 2012-13 found that only 38% of 16 crore rural households had access to a toilet. The base line survey identified 9.5 crore BPL and APL households to be covered in order to achieve 100% sanitation coverage in rural areas.

With 90.14% of the rural households having access to toilet as of August 15, 2018, rural sanitation coverage has seen a huge jump. This means that only 1.6 crore households are left to be covered.

Toilets built under UPA

Toilets built by UPA under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan between 2010-11 to 2013-14 stands at around 3 crore, according to data from Lok Sabha Questions (click here and here). Thus, on an average, UPA built 76 lakh toilets in a year.

Toilets built under NDA

Around 8.17 crore rural households (approved and unapproved) were covered under NDA's Swachh Bharat Mission between October 2, 2014 to August 15, 2018, according to SBM (Gramin) dashboard. Launched in October 2014, SBM aims to make India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by October 2, 2019.

This means NDA covered 2.5 times more households than UPA in 4 years. And, on an average, 2 crore toilets were constructed in a year under NDA, against UPA's 76 lakhs per year.

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