"These two young women didn't have access to a toilet, and like so many women around the world, but particularly in India, they went out in the fields at night to relieve themselves and they went in a pair to minimise the likelihood that they would be isolated," Congressman Earl Blumenauer said.

Speaking on the floor of US House of Representatives, the Democratic lawmaker from Oregon described the lack of toilet facilities as offensive on many levels.

"It is emblematic of violence against women, the vicious attitudes by people towards lower castes and the complicated dynamic of castes in rural India," he said.

"It is also testimony to the need to be able to have these young women and others around the globe – have access to adequate sanitation facilities, so they don't have to sneak out at night or early in the morning, cloaked in darkness to disguise their embarrassment, to use a nearby field as their restroom," Blumenauer said.

"One-half of India's population uses open fields for defecation. Fewer than half of Indian households have a toilet. The women and girls perform a ritual to deal with this most basic bodily function, often in fear and trepidation," he said.

"This is one more piece of evidence as to why the American effort to increase our help for access to basic sanitation and safe drinking water is a moral imperative, as well as being critical for global health, security, education, and stable economic development," Blumenauer said.

Globally, 2.5 billion men, women and children do not have access to adequate sanitation, the Congressman said, adding that this means that there are more people on Earth with a cell phone than with a toilet.

Countries where open defecation is more prevalent also have the highest numbers of deaths for children under five, high levels of under nutrition, poverty and huge disparities between the rich and poor, he noted.

"The lack of adequate sanitation is a huge drag one conomies at a national level. The total global economic losses associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation are estimated to be USD 260 billion annually," he said.

According to the World Bank, for India alone, inadequate sanitation costs the country the equivalent of 6.4 percent of their gross domestic product, over USD 50 billion a year.

"Mr Speaker, the recent news account of a horrific murder and rape of two young girls in India shocked our consciousness, but one of the items that was interesting is that few of the news accounts actually detailed what put those young women at risk," Blumenauer said.

(Agencies)

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