In the shadow of its new suburbs, torrid growth and 300- million-plus-strong middle class, India is struggling with a sanitation emergency. From the stream in Devi's village to the nation's holiest river, the Ganges, 75 percent of the country's surface water is contaminated by human and agricultural waste and industrial effluent. Everyone in Indian cities is at risk of consuming human feces, if they're not already, the Ministry of Urban Development concluded in September.
Illness, lost productivity and other consequences of fouled water and inadequate sewage treatment trimmed 1.4-7.2 percent from the gross domestic product of Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam in 2005, according to a study last year by the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program.
Sanitation and hygiene-related issues may have a similar if not greater impact on India's $1.2 trillion economy, says Guy Hutton, a senior water and sanitation economist with the program in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Snarled transportation and unreliable power further damp the nation's growth. Companies that locate in India pay hardship wages and ensconce employees in self- sufficient compounds.
The toll on human health is grim. Every day, 1,000 children younger than 5 years old die in India from diarrhea, hepatitis- causing pathogens and other sanitation-related diseases, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.