ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Vulnerable Humanity and Preparedness of Global Institutions

The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord, New York: Hachette Books, 2020; pp 480, $18.99.

Revisiting Open Defecation

Since October 2014, the Government of India has worked towards the goal of eliminating open defecation by 2019 through the Swachh Bharat Mission. In June 2014, the results of a survey of rural sanitation behaviour in North India were first reported. The results from a late 2018 survey that revisited households from the 2014 survey in four states—Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh—are presented. Although rural latrine ownership increased considerably over this period, open defecation remains very common in these four states. There is substantial heterogeneity across states in what the sbm did and how. These outcomes suggest the need for a transparent, fact-based public dialogue about the sbm, its costs and benefits, and its accomplishments and means.

Persistence of Solid Fuel Use in Rural North India

Survey evidence from rural North India showing persistent solid fuel use despite increases in liquefied petroleum gas ownership is presented. Although three-quarters of survey households in these states had LPG, almost all also had a stove that uses solid fuels. Among those owning both, almost three-quarters used solid fuels the day before the survey. Household economic status, relative costs of cooking fuels, gender inequality, and beliefs about solid fuels were important contributors to high solid fuel use. To realise the full health benefits of the LPG expansion, attention must now be turned towards encouraging exclusive LPG use.

Child Height in India

An analysis of child height-for-age using the newly released data from the National Family Health Survey-4 indicates that the average child height increased by about four-tenths of a height-for-age standard deviation between 2005 and 2015. Although important, this increase is small relative to India’s overall height deficit, and relative to economic progress; children in India remain among the shortest in the world. It is unsurprising that the increase in height-for-age has been modest because none of the principal factors responsible for India’s poor child height outcomes have substantially improved over the last decade. Familiar patterns of regional, sex, and caste disadvantage are reflected in child height in 2015.

Open Defecation in Rural India, 2015–16

The Government of India’s NFHS–4 offers the best new data on open defecation in rural India to be eleased in over a decade. Although open defecation has become less common than it was 10 years ago, it is still highly prevalent, with more than half of rural households reporting open defecation. On average, change has been slow, even during the period of the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Understanding Open Defecation in Rural India

India has far higher open defecation rates than other developing regions where people are poorer, literacy rates are lower, and water is relatively more scarce. In practice, government programmes in rural India have paid little attention in understanding why so many rural Indians defecate in the open rather than use affordable pit latrines. Drawing on new data, a study points out that widespread open defecation in rural India is on account of beliefs, values, and norms about purity, pollution, caste, and untouchability that cause people to reject affordable latrines. Future rural sanitation programmes must address villagers’ ideas about pollution, pit-emptying, and untouchability, and should do so in ways that accelerate progress towards social equality for Dalits rather than delay it.

Caste and Life Satisfaction in Rural North India

The article explores the association between caste and life association, an indicator to measure the subjective well-being of people. In addition to reporting the differences in life satisfaction across caste categories in rural North India, where the Dalits and Other Backward Classes experience lower levels of life satisfaction as compared to the upper castes, the article also examines whether these differences can be accounted for merely by the association of caste with poverty.

Greene's Moral Tribes and Cooperation and Conflict in India

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene; New York: Penguin, 2013; pp 432, $29.95

Revealed Preference for Open Defecation

Despite economic growth, government latrine construction, and increasing recognition among policymakers that open defecation constitutes a health and human capital crisis, it remains stubbornly widespread in rural India. We present evidence from new survey data collected in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Many survey respondents' behaviour reveals a preference for open defecation: over 40% of households with a working latrine have at least one member who defecates in the open. Our data predict that if the government were to build a latrine for every rural household that lacks one, without changing sanitation preferences, most people in our sample in these states would nevertheless defecate in the open. Policymakers in India must lead a large-scale campaign to promote latrine use.

Are Children in West Bengal Shorter Than Children in Bangladesh?

Children in West Bengal and Bangladesh are presumed to share the same distribution of genetic height potential. In West Bengal they are richer, on average, and are therefore slightly taller. However, when wealth is held constant, children in Bangladesh are taller. This gap can be fully accounted for by differences in open defecation, and especially by open defecation in combination with differences in women's status and maternal nutrition.

Stunting among Children

Indian children are very short, on average, compared with children living in other countries. Because height reflects early life health and net nutrition, and because good early life health also helps brains to grow and capabilities to develop, widespread growth faltering is a human development...
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