Category Archives: South Asia

#InDeepShit

By Ingeborg Krukkert, Lead Asia Programmes | Sanitation and hygiene specialist, IRC

Human beings are being used to plug the gaps in failing sanitation systems – Bezwada Wilson.

#InDeepShit is the title of an event I attended on Saturday 22 April 2017. Talking about toilets and who is able to use one – or not; talking about who cleans them and how – sometimes literally with their hands deep in shit. I know this does not sound like an event a sane person would like to join on their day off. But you are mistaken! And I was not the only one. Around 80 young and critical people in the room showed that this was an event important enough to spend their free Saturday morning on.

I was triggered by the quote on the invitation saying: “Any human cannot clean somebody’s shit for the sake of roti. This is Independent India?”. The quote is from Bezwada Wilson, an Indian activist against manual scavenging. He was one of eight very interesting speakers invited to address the meeting. They covered a wide range of challenges: from barriers disabled people face when wanting to use a toilet (“we can’t hire you because we do not have a toilet for you”), to safety issues for transgender people (“we have progressive laws on paper, but this is not what I encounter in real life”), to accountability and manual scavenging.

Nine years

Almost nine years ago Bezwada Wilson was an inspiring and eloquent speaker at the IRC Symposium on Urban Sanitation for the Poor. Nine years and the same problems still need to be addressed. At that time he said: “sanitation is much broader than simply toilets. Effective sanitation also requires hygiene education – people have to change their practice as well as get access to toilets. It is inevitable that the main focus is on the early part of the chain (building toilets), but there is increasing awareness that the most difficult problems relate to the removal of faecal sludge […]. In many cities, treatment, disposal or reuse is not managed” and – as Bezwada Wilson put it so eloquently in his presentation during the symposium: “human beings are being used to plug the gaps in failing sanitation systems”.

Bezwada Wilson

Bezwada Wilson

Nine years later, this is exactly what is happening with the Swachh Bharat Mission. With the hard deadline of 2019 to reach the target of a toilet for every household, state and districts seem to have no choice but to focus on constructing toilets and on doing it fast. More than 700 million toilets to go…. There is no time to focus on use, no time to focus on what is happening with all that human waste after using the toilet, no focus on what happens when the pit is full, and no focus on who is emptying the toilet or how it is done.

Nine years of activism and there is still manual scavenging. Bezwada Wilson has not changed; he seems more motivated than ever. And with reason! It’s not only about dignity, safety is a huge issue too. Workers are dying, even in 2017, he points out referring to the recent sewage plant accident in Noida.

Chief Executive VK Madhavan from WaterAid India, however, also sees positive developments. He acknowledges that we cannot change where we are born, or in which family or caste. So true and yet so easy to forget: that privilege – or not – is no contribution of us as individuals, no contribution at all. What we can do is provide a space to those who are denied to speak up or to interact with the government. That is why WaterAid India together with Youth Ki Awaaz organised this event. Youth Ki Awaaz is India’s largest platform where young people can publish their stories to drive impact.

And this is what Bezwada Wilson has also done. He is founder and National Convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), a national movement committed to the total eradication of manual scavenging and the rehabilitation of all scavengers for dignified occupations. SKA was instrumental in eradicating manual scavenging in as many as 139 districts in India since 2009. He created a change of perspective. And he is not alone. Mrs Lali Bai, a former manual scavenger, also shared her experiences with us. She is now an activist and founder of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a national campaign for dignity and eradication of manual scavenging. For a long time many of us, including government officials, ignored or even denied the existence of manual scavenging. But there are many examples that manual scavenging is still going on as this picture from Cambodia shows.

Manual scavenger in Cambodia (photo by Danny Dourng)

Manual scavenger in Cambodia (photo by Danny Dourng)

Any shortcuts to change?

In India more and more authorities start to acknowledge the problem. Our role is to provide space to make this happen. It all goes terribly slowly though and I asked the panel if there is no shortcut to change. Nobody could answer that question. Can you?

The blog was originally posted on 24 April 2017 on the IRC website.

Ghaziabad administration launches ‘Swachhtagrah’ app to monitor open defecation

Ghaziabad administration launches ‘Swachhtagrah’ app to monitor open defecation. Hindustan Times, April 13, 2017.

The Ghaziabad district administration on Thursday launched a mobile app to help officials locate areas where people defecate in the open. Volunteers and monitoring committees will now be able to send complaints and Google map locations of open defecation.

app

Incidents of open defecation can be reported in the app.

According to officials, the ‘Swachhagrah’ app is available on the Google play store but its use will be restricted to use by volunteers and monitoring committee members registered with the district open defecation free (ODF) control room.

The officials aim to provide a total of 12,969 toilets by the end of April as part of the ODF programme. As many as 111 of 196 villages in the district are open defecation-free.

“Once we achieve the ODF status in all of our 196 villages, the app will help volunteers and monitoring committees to check if people are returning to old habits.

They, after providing their login and password, can send complaints and even the location through the app. The complaint will be displayed to all officials and also in the control room,” said Virendra Singh, district Panchayati Raj officer.

Read the complete article.

A financially viable and safe solution for managing human waste

Collecting small monthly payments will help waste collectors build their business.

Bangladesh - pit latrine empytiers

Pit latrine workers in Bangladesh collecting and transporting human waste to a site where it is processed into fertiliser. Image: Neil Palmer (IWMI). Credit: University of Leeds

Spreading the cost of emptying pit latrines over a series of monthly payments could make it more affordable for poor households and help kick start the safe reuse of faecal sludge as fertiliser and biogas. This is the conclusion of a willingness-to-pay study carried out in a rural sub-district of Bangladesh covered by the BRAC WASH Programme II.

The study has already caught the attention of policymakers, and influenced the development of Bangladesh’s first regulatory framework for faecal sludge management. Some of the authors are members of the Bangladesh National Committee for Fecal Sludge Management.

Currently, households struggle to pay a lump sum of US$13 every three to four years to empty their pit latrines. This is approximately 14% of their monthly income. Instead, the study found they could pay small monthly payments of as little as US$ 0.31 per month, comparable to what they spend each month on a mobile phone service. These up-front payments help waste collectors to invest in the development of their service. Nevertheless, a government subsidy would still be needed to cover the full cost of safe removal and transport of faecal sludge.

As mentioned above, there is potential for waste collectors to generate extra revenue by converting faecal waste into fertiliser and biogas. The profitability of these waste by-products, however, can be effected by existing subsidies for chemical fertilisers and conventional fuels. Another factor that can reduce profitability is the low energy or calorific value of human waste compared to other organic wastes. A companion study carried out as part of the BRAC WASH Programme II tested solutions to increase the calorific value by co-processing human waste with other agricultural wastes.

The willingness-to-pay study is an output of the Value at the end of the Sanitation Value Chain (VeSV) research project, lead by the University of Leeds. VeSV was one of six action research projects funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Bangladesh) through IRC. Additional funding was provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.

For more information read “Spreading the cost to transform sanitation“, published by the University of Leed’s School of Civil Engineering, 22 March 2017.

Citation: Balasubramanya S, et al. (2017) Towards sustainable sanitation management : establishing the costs and willingness to pay for emptying and transporting sludge in rural districts with high rates of access to latrines. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0171735. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171735

This news item was originally published on the IRC website, 27 March 2017.

SHARE – Understanding Gendered Sanitation Vulnerabilities: A Study in Uttar Pradesh

Understanding Gendered Sanitation Vulnerabilities: A Study in Uttar Pradesh, 2017. SHARE Project.

The aim of this study was to understand rural women and girls’ age-specific experiences of using and accessing sanitation. The study focused on the accessibility of latrines and the conditions of sanitation experienced across age, religion, caste, etc. Share_Logo_MAIN_STRAP_RGB

The study objectives were informed by research indicating that women and girls have unique needs, and that these needs vary between urban and rural environments.

Specifically, we were interested in assessing the gender, caste, and age-specific experiences of SRPS that rural women and girls experience, and to suggest ways that SDG indicators and guidelines for Swachh Bharat Mission—Rural (SBM) in India might be adjusted to be more sensitive to the unique needs and stresses of rural women and girls without access to sanitation.

Death-trap toilets: the hidden dangers of Mumbai’s poorest slums

Death-trap toilets: the hidden dangers of Mumbai’s poorest slums. The Guardian, February 27, 2017.

Poorly-constructed toilet blocks have led to the deaths of seven people in three months, but politicians are yet to act on their promises for change 

mumbai

In Mumbai slums, 78% of community toilets lack water supply, 58% have no electricity and many don’t have proper doors. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

On the morning of 4 February, Harish Tikedar, Ganesh Soni, and Mohammed Isafil Ansari waited in a queue to use the community toilet in the Indira Nagar slum in eastern Mumbai. All of a sudden the floor collapsed, plunging Tikedar, Soni and Ansari into the septic tank 15-feet below.

Two others who also fell – Sirajjudin Turat and Ramakant Kanojia – managed to hold on to the sides until they were rescued.

“I was submerged up to my shoulders in the slush,” says Turat. “I could feel it pulling me down but somehow held on to a slab. Then some people pulled me up and I passed out.”

The five men who were pulled out were unrecognisable, covered in faeces. They were all taken to a nearby hospital but Tikedar, Soni and Ansari did not survive.

In Mumbai’s slums, the simple act of relieving oneself is fraught with danger, especially in the slums of M-East ward where population density is high, and the few public amenities are crumbling.

M-East is the poorest and most deficient in civic services of Mumbai’s 24 administrative wards. It has expanded over the last 15 years but has remained on the periphery of the city’s consciousness and governance systems. The differences between the civic amenities available in the smattering of middle-class apartment blocks and the slums, which dominate M-East, are stark.

Read the complete article.

Open Defecation vs. Community Toilets: A Complicated Choice – Global Waters

Open Defecation vs. Community Toilets: A Complicated Choice. Global Waters, February 6, 2017.

She told us all to just forget it. I didn’t catch her name, I just watched her adjust the microphone and stand on tiptoes at the podium. Her grey hair peeked out from behind and she sounded frustrated.

globalwaters

A poster showing good hand washing practices outside a community toilet in Delhi. Photo Credit: USAID/India

Forget the security. It won’t make a difference. Forget the caretakers and the cleaning supplies. We don’t need those. We just want sewer lines in our communities. That’s enough now. We want to use a toilet in our home.

The other women in the audience clearly agreed given the loud burst of applause when she mentioned sewer lines. Instead, she has a community toilet; that or the choice of squatting somewhere out in the open. Choosing between defecating in the open or using a community toilet is layered with far more complexities than I’d understood before.

My colleagues and I from USAID/India were spending the day at a workshop organized by our partner, Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE). They’re in the early stages of a behavior change communication study that will help us understand why, even with access to community toilets, open defecation is still happening. There were about 100 people living in five slums across Delhi who had given up their day to tell us.

Read the complete article.

Do it differently: Toilets are not enough to achieve sanitation, India must reinvent the waste business

Do it differently: Toilets are not enough to achieve sanitation, India must reinvent the waste business. by Sunita Narain, Times of India, February 11, 2017.

The most important programme of this government is Clean India – not just of corruption, but of the muck and filth that is taking over our rivers, our air and our cities.

But equally (and more) important is the agreement that this ‘cleaning’ up is not possible unless we can provide every Indian with toilets that work and toilets that are connected to systems that will safely dispose human excreta, to prevent further pollution of our environment and create another source of bad health.

This agenda is therefore, not just about building toilets but about building sanitation systems that are affordable by all. Only when growth is affordable and inclusive can it be sustainable.

But this is where the opportunity also lies in doing things differently. Till now, the paradigm for urban sanitation has been costly. It has been based on the idea that building toilets is enough to clean the country.

But the excreta sums of different cities, or what we call the city’s “shit-flow” diagram, shows that the situation is grim. Today’s cities do not treat or safely dispose the bulk of human excreta generated.

Read the complete article.