Career: A Political Ecology Approach To Rural Sanitation In India
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The World Health Organization estimates that 2.4 billion people worldwide are without access to sanitation. The social cost of poor or inadequate sanitation is significant. Disease related to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene is the leading cause of death in children in the developing world and reduces the quality of life and economic opportunities for millions of adults. Health concerns do not strongly motivate people in poor countries to build latrines at home, however. Even when latrines are subsidized and built, people do not use them. There is a critical need to identify and understand the reasons people decide not to build or use latrines, and by contrast, the factors that lead to latrine use and maintenance. This CAREER award will support research that aims to identify the international policies, socioeconomic factors, and environmental conditions that influence the building and use of latrines in rural India, where an estimated 360 million people live without access to toilets. Sanitation projects directly depend on land and water resources. The investigator will collect data on environmental conditions (e.g., access to open land or running water) that support existing practices and their locations. The research project will explore latrine use and non-use as complicated by social and spatial norms. The investigator will use an iterative, mixed-method approach, including the use of quantitative methods to link socioeconomic and geographic factors with latrine building at the national scale. These analyses will inform the selection of four separate sites in rural Indian villages where interviews will be conducted with residents and community leaders. Systematic analysis of extensive ethnographic data will seek to explain the complex factors influencing the uneven distribution and use of latrines at village and household scales. This research will generate fundamental insights regarding the factors that influence the use of different forms of sanitation by residents in developing regions. Through a multi-scalar exploration of the everyday practices of people, this project will advance knowledge about household-scale adoption or rejection of sanitation interventions. As such, the project may help provide practical solutions to the global sanitation crisis by determining the socio-economic, environmental, and geographic factors that influence the willingness and ability of communities to use latrines. The project also will provide valuable education and training opportunities for students in the U.S. and India, and it will provide information for public health educational activities in the study areas and elsewhere.