Author – Shikha Shah
In 2012, I had to undergo induction training at my first job as a young social development professional. As part of it, I stayed 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 life till now.
The problem – 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 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 our environment and affected 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
Role of the private sector, NGOs, Community organizations, civil society and international agencies is 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, the Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) toilet model has emerged as a sustainable concept to troubleshoot sanitation problem in rural India.
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 a flush consuming less water with uncompromised hygiene. The basic concept of EcoSan’s dry composting toilet is to manage human excreta and urine separately by decomposing them into useful organic resources, which can be handled safely and used in agriculture without harming our environment.
EcoSan toilets consist of two pits (one for use and one for composting) and separate outlets for urine and anal wash water diversion. Usually, these pits are 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 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 (rich in potash and nitrogen). Urine and waste water (rich in ammonia) collected in a separate chamber can be used for vegetable and flower beds.
Variations in the design of EcoSan toilets using appropriate technology to suit local area requirements have been done. Some examples of thriving models of these dry composting toilets can be seen in Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa, Bihar and Ladakh. Voluntary organizations such as Myrada, Eco Solutions, UNICEF, WaterAction, Wherever The Need, etc. have designed toilets that are running efficiently in urban, semi-urban, rural and coastal areas.
These pictures show the construction of EcoSan toilets in a village in Andhra Pradesh
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.