by Heather Denigan
August 7, 2014

Clean water and sanitation are rare in India — but perhaps sadder still, many of India’s people still don’t understand their urgency. Death and disease have been their way of life for centuries — millennia even. Government benevolence has created a surplus of unused facilities while its people don’t understand what they’re for or why they’re important.

The Indian government hopes for the country’s “total sanitization” by the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi in 2019, according to a story from Bloomberg — “India’s Toilet Race Failing as Villages Don’t Use Them“. One woman tells the writer her opinion on latrines: ‘“Locking us inside these booths with our own filth? I will never see how that is clean. . . Going out there is normal,” she says, indicating a nearby field.

We can make a political point, an economic point, and a philosophical point here. Human flourishing isn’t normal — just look at the rates for polio, rape, diarrhea, viruses, and cholera in India, as well as note its tenacious adherence to the caste system. But it cannot be achieved without stewardship.

Waste, chaos, decay, disease, and death are all “natural.” Does that require us to follow nature in all respects? Refusing to accept that ancient status quo doesn’t mean that we go against nature in everything — sanitization works with nature while protecting people from “natural causes”.

Abolishing poverty begins in the mind. Still trapped in a fatalistic mentality, the root of this problem runs deeper than the availability of opportunities. Hearts and minds must change before habits and traditions do. Violence (ala Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Min) can foist or force change but accomplishes nothing in the way of true reform.

Some aspects of modernization and technology — smart phones, for example — have allowed societies to leapfrog generations and centuries of development with minimal infrastructure, bringing not just modern communications but the information revolution — and an educational revolution — as well. Other aspects — such as sanitation — are harder, requiring costly infrastructure and cultural change.

But these challenges should not deter us. They are reasons to redouble our efforts. As Rod Martin tirelessly teaches, we should not rest until poverty is eliminated from the face of the Earth. It can be done, and in our lifetimes.