EcoSan Sustainable Toilet Solutions For Rural India

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Author – Shikha Shah

In 2012, I had to undergo induction training during my first job as a young social development professional. As part of it, I had stay in a house of a marginal farmer in a remote village of Mandla district, Madhya Pradesh called Banjara Tola. I still remember walking alone to a barren field every morning, around 500 meters away from the mud house I had stayed in. Carrying a bottle of water and soap in hand, I had to cross patches of corn fields and a small stony stream to answer nature’s call. Finishing the task, I washed my hands in the same stream from which many times water was fetched for washing, cooking and drinking. It was the most self conscious and uncomfortable part of my daily routine for the next 30 days.

The problem – Poor sanitation

Eco Sanitation
Poor Sanitation

There cannot be a better way to understand sanitation issues like open defecation and personal hygiene than by personally experiencing it. In Banjara Tola, I discovered that hundreds of Indian villages lacked toilets in-house due to many physical and financial constraints apart from people’s cultural choices. With low water table and no perennial streams, many villages could not construct flush toilets. Marginality had further pushed them to use even the money under government sanitation schemes for other immediate needs like food, health and agriculture.

Poor sanitation has only degraded environment and human health regardless of losing billions of dollars every year in search of solution. It has disgraced our nation and affected tourism too. Inefficient in making stakeholders realize the importance of household sanitation, recent developments has adopted a demand-driven, community-led, public-private partnership based decentralized approach for better implementation of national policies and schemes.

The solution – EcoSan toilets

Ecosan-toilet-model-GTZ-ESF
Ecosan Toilet Model GTZ-ESF

Role of private sector, NGOs, Community based organizations, civil society and international agencies have been crucial in creating some successful sanitation/toilet models, which can be replicated on a large scale and included in new policies and laws. Among these models, Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) has emerged as a sustainable concept to troubleshoot sanitation problem in India.

The basic concept of EcoSan is to manage human excreta and urine by decomposing them before deposing, into useful organic resources, which can be handled safely and used in agriculture without harming our environment. The Indian subcontinent has a diverse topography and uneven distribution of water resources, which requires a water-efficient toilet model to ensure mass implementation. EcoSan has come up with toilet designs without flush system, consuming less water with uncompromised hygiene.

Sanitation Ecosan Toilet
Ecosan Toilet Model : Click to zoOM

EcoSan toilets consist of two pits (one for use and one for composting) and a urine and anal wash water diversion outlet. Usually, a pit is designed to suffice for a five-member family for 5-6 months, after which the second pit is used and excreta in the first pit (rich in potash and nitrogen) is left to decompose. After every toilet use, a handful of ash has to be thrown over excreta to create optimum conditions for waste decomposition by microorganisms into nutrient rich fertilizer. Urine and waste water (rich in ammonia) collected in a separate chamber can be diluted and used for vegetable and flower beds.

These pictures show construction to usage of EcoSan toilets in a village of Andhra Pradesh.

Sanitation-Ecosan-Andhra

Variations in the design of EcoSan toilets using appropriate technology to suit local area requirement have been done. Some examples of thriving models of these toilets can be seen in Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa, Bihar and Ladakh. Voluntary organization like Myrada, Eco Solutions, UNICEF, WaterAction, Wherever The Need (WTN) etc. have designed toilets that are running efficiently in urban, semi-urban, rural and coastal areas.

Bio-toilets

Bio-toilet is another emerging technology using variety of bacteria strains to convert human waste into non-toxic, non-contaminating water that can be safely disposed in water bodies or can be used for irrigation. It is being used in Gulbarga, Karnataka.

A self flushing e-toilet (using concept of pay & use toilet scheme) are toilets that are designed in such a way that it flushes itself on entry and exit with a drop of coin. They are prevalent in Delhi, Kerala and Mumbai for footpath and slum dwellers.

Factfile –

http://indiasanitationportal.org/category/category/ecological-sanitationecosan
http://indiasanitationportal.org/19056
http://www.mtnforum.org/sites/default/files/publication/files/5308.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_sanitation
http://www.ecosanservices.org/esf/index.php/projects/completed.html
http://www.thethirdpole.net/tourists-toilet-habits-flush-himalayan-town-dry/
http://www.kfpe.ch/projects/echangesuniv/kueng.php
http://www.unicef.org/india/reallives_8562.htm
http://en.hesperian.org/hhg/A_Community_Guide_to_Environmental_Health…
http://www.ashoksinhagroup.net/2013/05/manual-scavenging-practice-continues.html
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation…
http://www.railnews.co.in/railways-to-reserve-seats-for-on-board-housekeeping-employees/
http://www.rediff.com/business/slide-show…
http://esa.un.org/iys/docs/Eco-San-India.pdf
http://www.wsscc.org/sites/default/files/publications/adb_indias_sanitation_for_all_2009.pdf
http://www.ecosanres.org/pdf_files/Nanning_PDFs/Eng/Calvert%2014_E02.pdf
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299104/
https://www.trisanita.org/jases/asespaper2009/ases01v4n1y2009.pdf
http://green.aurovilleportal.org/wdownloads/waste/ecological_sanitation.pdf
Feature photo Via http://satnetasia.blogspot.in/ 

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Shikha Shah
Shikha Shah has been working on water conservation and rural development activities ever since she joined TERI University for her master’s degree in Water Resources Management. She is currently an aspiring social entrepreneur working in the Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBI) cell of IIT Madras.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Cool innovation, this can reduce the disease caused due to the poor sanitation in rural areas. Thanks for bringing this up to us.

  2. Hi Shikha, EcoSan artcle makes for a nice reading. However, I want to know which are the organizations promoting this concept? What is the cost involved? Do the community involvement taken into considearion in cash or in kind? Has there been any collaboration with local panchayats to spread this initiative at a larger scale?

    Please discuss.

  3. some of the organizations promoting and facilitating this concept are mentioned in the last section or article. About the government funding and cost details..i will detail you soon.

  4. There is this UK based organization called ‘wherever the need’ who are piloting eco san toilets in India, mostly in Tamil Nadu for now. they have a model which can cater around 350 women and children costing around Rs 350000 or Rs 1000 per person.
    Myrada is also promoting ecosan toilets partnering with many national and international organizations mostly in Karnataka. they have a unit for one family costing around Rs 13000 -15000. In many villages partnering with panchayats has reduced the cost in form of labor and material contribution.
    Some state governments has included Ecological Sanitation as main agenda in their health schemes too.

    • [1] Can we replace toilet construction by material like fiber glass, ABS etc to extent possible instead of concrete?. This will bring in precast concept, just do assembly at site. This is also bring in minimum works at site.What is cost of each toiler ? who make them?

      • Ofcourse you put fiber glass, ABS etc. provided they can tolerate rural environmental conditions and can be repaired by villagers when required. Concrete is something people are used to, so they can maintain it at their level in times of need.
        Cost of toilets vary according to size and model. You can read my previous comment to check prices by some of the Indian organizations. Also, check the links in reference section for more info.

  5. I am helping a school to build toile for girls.
    we have collected some 2 lacs but are short of by just 3 lacs total budget is 5 lacs. They have old design as usual prevailing in India. Can we build these toilets in schools? Will it be cost effective?

  6. Excellent read Shikha. Can you tell me which one of the two eco-friendly technologies from Ecosan and Bio toilets is cost effective and more feasible to manage at HH level? Any organization supplying these on commercial terms in bulk?

  7. Excellent info. Shikha. Can you let me know which of the two mentioned Toilet tech. from Bio and Ecosan is cost effective at HH level and if there is any commercial outfit supplying these?

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