India’s slum population has been estimated to surge to 104 million by the end of 2017 (Times of India, 2013), and millions of communities living in squalid slum conditions still have no access to a safe and hygienic toilet and are forced to defecate in the open. This is a particular problem in heavily populated areas such as inner city slums, as diseases spread quickly through widespread contamination of water. An improvement of sanitation facilities in these areas would have a significantly improve the health of those who live in slums, which would then have a direct impact on their wealth, education, and wellbeing. We have, therefore, been working with many communities who live in inner city slums to build sanitation facilities that have been specifically adapted to suit this diverse environment.
In 2010, Sanitation First started to work on a low-tech, innovative approach to provide toilets and sanitation services for slum residents. As slums have their own set of challenges to contend with, including space restrictions, little or no water, and no existing sewerage infrastructure, we came up with has become known as our four-stage Inner City Sanitation model, which utilises the specially designed GroSan toilet. This system, where waste is contained at point of use and then collected for safe processing elsewhere, is known as Container Based Sanitation, or CBS.
Since 2010, we have installed 94 GroSans in Puducherry and Cuddalore, which serve around 6,000 people. The transformation is truly inspiring; people feel better, have more dignity and confidence, and are better off financially. The success of this programme is hugely motivating and Sanitation First want to bring these benefits to many more people by building more toilets in Puducherry and other parts of India.
The implementation of GroSan toilets in a community results in:
Reduced risk of diarrhoea
Better health means more time in school so better future for the children
Less sickness means less time off work so greater income into the household
Reduced expenditure on medicines and healthcare
Women and girls are less likely to be attacked
Removes the stigma of open defecation, which is undignified and shaming
Provides employment opportunities for local people
Environmentally sustainable, turning waste into compost
Uses minimal water and is designed to last for decades
Stage 1: Education and Motivation
Research has shown that people need education and motivation, in order to adopt new hygiene habits and toilet usage. In common with all of our toilet projects, we start by working alongside and educating the community about the benefits of personal hygiene and sanitation.
Once people understand that toilet usage and good hygiene practices are linked to so many of their families’ problems – and not just problems affecting their health, but also their time, money, dignity, and personal safety – they embrace the idea of having a GroSan toilet. This early understanding is key to the success of the project.
Stage 2: GroSan Toilets
The next stage is the construction and installation of our specially designed GroSan toilets.
The GroSan, like all of our toilets, operates on the composting ecosan principle. Solids are safely held in containers, and urine is piped into tanks for collection. The compact size means that GroSans can fit into tight spaces in the overcrowded slums. The clever engineers at Sanitation First have designed specially built platforms that span the ‘canals’ (open sewers running through the slums), making use of otherwise dead space.
Stage 3: Collect and Service
Sanitation First provides a cleaning and waste collection service to ensure that the GroSans remain in a usable condition at all times.
Regular visits from the team also ensure that any problems, either with the toilets or the communities’ attitude towards them, are spotted early on and can be dealt with before they have a chance to escalate.
Stage 4: Compost and Sale
The waste is taken to the processing compound and transformed into a rich, soil improving compost, which is developed to enhance agricultural production.
Extensive research and development has led Sanitation First to develop an enriched compost formula known as GroComp. This is based on 40% of our collected material and 60% of other organic materials, and it has proven to be as effective as other organic fertilisers available in the Indian market. Sales to local farmers have been steadily growing year on year as the word gets out that the compost not only enhances yields, but also strengthens and protects the plants in the face of severe weather events. **
Meet Mrs Thayar…
Mrs Thayar lives with her husband and three children in the Murungampakkam Pet slum, Puducherry. The densely populated slum lies on the banks of a tidal river that frequently floods, meaning that conventional pit latrines were never a viable option and the nearest community toilet was over 1km away. These sanitation conditions were very difficult, as described by Mrs Thayar:
We were never comfortable going to the community toilet, we had to pay Rs 4 each time and still the toilets were not cleaned and filled with faeces, the water tap never worked, and the toilets didn’t have proper doors so there was no privacy. As a result, we often chose to defecate in the open along the riverbank where there was tree cover. However, this was not easy when it rained and the river flooded. On rainy days, we ate and drank less to avoid going to the toilet.
In 2014, Sanitation First worked with Mrs Thayar’s community to install GroSan Toilets.
Sanitation First came and spoke to us about ecological sanitation and their plans to place them in our slum. They taught us about the link between sanitation and health, and took us to visit their toilets in Cuddalore where we could see the toilets in use and hear the experiences of users. On our return, we had a short meeting and decided to go ahead with the toilets. We identified the locations and families for each toilet, and gave these details to Sanitation First. In the next 10 days, we had our first toilet!
The toilet and hygiene education has changed our lives in many ways. There is privacy for everyone and we are able to use the toilet at any time of day. Given that we know all the families using the toilet, there are no problems for the young girls with teasing. There has definitely been a reduction of sickness amongst all the families – my husband used to get frequently ill from diarrhoea but that is history now. He is now able to work more days and bring in additional income to the family. My daughters are also able to attend more school and their performance at school has improved.