Makeover Monday week 32, 2017: Why India needs to fix its broken toilets

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A rather peculiar topic for our MakeoverMonday challenge this week, but certainly one worth talking about (thanks Jade Le Van for sending us the suggestion!).

Toilets in India – a trip down memory lane

My own experience of toilets in India goes back 6 years almost to the day. It was August 15, India’s Independence Day but also my birthday. I spent 10 weeks in India while working for Deloitte and for this particular weekend I was in Kerala with some friends I made through work. So it was my birthday but noone knew and we were on a 10 hour or so bus trip back to Bangalore. I was a bit homesick at the time (probably due to the lack of birthday cakes, candles, flowers or some other sort of niceties that usually come my way) and it was hot, I was stuck in a bus with no air con and by this point not quite enjoying the experience all that much.

At some point it was time for a toilet break and I found myself in front of a little outhouse. I’m laughing about it now, but at the time it wasn’t all that funny, because everyone on the bus was curious to see what ‘the white girl’ was going to do and people weren’t afraid to stare and wait. So I decided to give this a go. How bad could it be right? Well, rest assured, it was one of those places you don’t want to go back to. In the middle of nowhere with no regular cleaning being done, this place smelled like well it smelled bad. I remember feeling very sick but the only other option was to go ‘outdoors’ with a bus full of onlookers.

Yes, I can laugh about it now, but it’s an experience that (clearly) stuck with me as being rather memorable. And somehow today, almost 6 years later, I am facing the topic of toilets in India once again, this time it’s not quite as awkward.

Broken Toilets for Makeover Monday

During my 10 weeks in Bangalore I had a number of interesting experiences with sanitary facilities so the topic for Makeover Monday is an important one and I look forward to seeing what data stories our community members come up with.

Let’s look at the original viz first:

Dashboard 1.png

What I like about it:

  • The topic of access to sanitation is really important and it’s great that there are vizzes out there to talk about it
  • Using colours to identify different categories of states very easily is helpful
  • The subtitles are helpful to understand what the different maps show

What I don’t like about it:

  • The title isn’t very clear and typos are distracting
  • The labels are too large for the map, they need to blend in better
  • What value does the map add? I can’t compare states and their values easily
  • so what? What is the key message here? Has there been an improvement over time? Which states are the best or the worst regarding access to sanitation?
  • I don’t find the ‘other state’ category very helpful. So if you’re neither lagging behind nor trying to improve, maybe it should just be called ‘average’ or something like that?

What I did:

  • I focused on only the ‘progressive states’ (green in the original viz) and looked at the changes they achieved between 2010-2016
  • Called out the top 3 improvers (who were having the poorest results in 2010)
  • used a simple bar chart to make for an easy comparison
  • added some annotations and text boxes


week 32


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