A Singapore-based non-profit organisation (NPO) is hoping to help clean up India, where an estimated 2,000 people die each day due to poor sanitation, and where some 600 million defecate openly because their homes do not have toilets.
The World Toilet Organisation, founded by 58-year-old Singaporean Jack Sim, dubbed Mr Toilet for his dedication to his quest for better sanitation, is partnering the local government of Andhra Pradesh to embark on a $1.8 billion project to build toilets for all its six million homes by 2018.
It is an ambitious mission given that the state is largely rural, and 55 per cent of its population does not have any sort of toilet facilities.
Those that do, tend not to use them either, Andhra Pradesh's Legislative Assembly Speaker and project convenor Kodela Siva Pasada Rao told The Sunday Times yesterday.
"Defecating in the open is an age-old practice of ours," said Dr Kodela, who was in Singapore with other state government officials to meet Mr Sim. "But as the population grows, it becomes more and more of a problem and we have people suffering from typhoid, diarrhoea and worm infestations because of poor hygiene."
His government is working with the Singapore NPO to design low-cost toilet units and sewage systems. It is also organising education campaigns to change the image of toilets and raise awareness of the importance of good hygiene.
The toilet project with the World Toilet Organisation is the first of its kind in India, said Dr Kodela, who hopes that Andhra Pradesh will become an example for the rest of the nation.
Mr Sim, a former businessman who founded the NPO in 2001 and is a full-time volunteer, is optimistic and driven by the goal of "making the toilet the happiest room in India".
"I grew up in poverty in Singapore when sanitation was bad and I saw Singapore improve in every aspect, including cleaning up the Singapore River and improving the sewage system," said Mr Sim, who was appointed by Andhra Pradesh as co-convenor of the project.
"This gives me confidence that what we've done in Singapore can be transferred to Andhra Pradesh. The idea is to have people feel a sense of ownership over their hygiene and toilets, so that when we build them, they will actually be used."
It helps that the project has the support of India's federal government, fuelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's emphasis on creating a "clean India".
"Prime Minister Modi is probably the world's biggest champion of toilets," said Mr Sim.
In his first Independence Day speech last year, Mr Modi urged his people to build better toilet facilities. "Can we not create proper toilet facilities? I don't know whether people will appreciate my talking about dirt and toilets from the Red Fort, but I come from a poor family. I have seen poverty and the attempt to give dignity to the poor starts from there."
Dr Kodela hopes the project with the World Toilet Organisation will get the ball rolling and noted that Singapore has many practices on maintaining cleanliness that his state can learn from.
"Singapore has come up from a small village, and we take it as a role model."