Category Archives: South Asia

Indestructible and smart: public toilet innovation in India

An interview with sanitation entrepreneur Mayank Midha.


Stainless steel GARV Ttoilets and Mayank Midha

As a child, Mayank Midha remembers how his mother and sister suffered during long distance journeys in India. They had to “hold themselves up” because there were hardly any decent public toilets on the way.

There is still a shortage of well-maintained public toilets in India, says Mayank. This affects women and girls most. Men can more easily urinate or defecate in the open.

Indestructible toilets

On 7 September 2016, Mayank Midha won the Sanitation Innovation Accelerator 2016, a search for an inclusive and sustainable solution for rural sanitation in India. The judges praised Mayank for developing an indestructible smart toilet, which is much cheaper than comparable models without comprising on quality.

Mayank has been in the manufacturing business for the past seven years. As an engineer with a post-graduate degree in rural management, he is interested in technical solutions for the poorest people at the “Base of the Pyramid” (BoP). After completing a project to manufacture telecom enclosure panels, he saw three spare panels lying in the factory. Their structure  made Mayank think, why not change some specifications and use them to construct Portable Smart Toilets?

After a year a prototype was ready in 2015 and in 2016 the stainless steel insulated GARV Toilet was born. Solar panels power LED lights and exhaust fans inside the toilet. Using stainless steel for the superstructure, toilet pans, and washbasins has multiple advantages: the units are vandal-proof, easy to clean and they don’t rust. This means a higher shelf-life with lower operating costs.

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Want to engage with wetland communities? Start with sanitation!

An interview with Dr. Ritesh Kumar of Wetlands International South Asia.

Loktak Lake fisherman, Manipur, India

Loktak Lake fisherman, Manipur, India. Photo: Sandro Lacarbona. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Every morning at four o’clock, thousands of men wake up to go fishing in Loktak Lake. When they return home in the early afternoon, their wives take the fish to the market.

Loktak Lake in Manipur is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India. This unique ecosystem is both a source of water and livelihood for around 100,000 people living on and around the lake. Loktak Lake is famous for its phumdis or floating islands. The lake’s Keibul Lamjao National Park is the only floating park in the world.

Poor sanitation threatens livelihood

If the lake’s fishermen or their wives fall ill, or if there is less fish to catch, they earn less. In both cases, poor sanitation is often the culprit. Fishermen risk getting skin diseases from polluted lake water. The whole family gets sick if faecal waste leaches into their drinking water sources. Water hyacinths thrive on faecal nutrients, choking the lake and the fish.

Wetlands International worked in Loktak Lake for several years up to 2013. “We are ‘accidental learners’ when it comes to sanitation”, says Dr. Ritesh Kumar, Conservation Programme Manager – South Asia.

Providing twin pit toilets to fishing families seemed like a simple solution to improve their health and protect their livelihood.  “Later we realised that soil conditions caused faecal waste to leach into water sources”, Dr. Kumar tells me from his office in New Delhi’s Defence Colony. Moving the toilets away from the houses to rocky areas solves the leaching problem, but gives rise to others, Dr. Kumar admits. The toilets are less accessible for the ill, disabled and the elderly; women and girls feel less safe to use them after dark.

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The Inspiring Story of How Sikkim Became India’s Cleanest State

The Inspiring Story of How Sikkim Became India’s Cleanest State | Source: The Better India, Oct 4 2016 |

In this small north-eastern state, people have a sense of pride that their home state is India’s first open-defecation free state. 


National Sanitation Awareness Campaign organized at Geyzing

This record was reiterated in the recently conducted Swachhta (cleanliness) survey undertaken by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) on the condition of sanitation in Indian states. According to the report, all four of Sikkim’s districts rank among top ten districts in cleanliness and sanitation. About 98.2% households in Sikkim are equipped with clean toilets and 100% of the state’s population use the community or household toilet.

Sikkim began its cleanliness drive over a decade before Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission. It was 13 years ago in 2003 when the Pawan Chamling-led government launched its total sanitation campaign for the state.

The state government began by sensitizing people to adopt a holistic approach that would improve hygiene and sanitation, protect the environment and accelerate overall development in the state. Next, it constructed 98,043 household latrines, surpassing its own target of 87,014. Of these, 61,493 latrines were built for below poverty line (BPL) families.

There was also a conscious effort to install public filters for drinking water, build more public toilets and introduce a better drainage system in the major cities like Gangtok and Namchi.

Read the complete article.

What numbers tell us about Open Defecation in India

What numbers tell us about Open Defecation in India | Source: The Hindu, Oct 2 2016 |

As per the most recent Swachhta Status Report in 2015, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country still defecates in open. 


Behaviour change is a key priority of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as sanitation is a behavioural issue. Photo: Special Arrangement

As per the most recent Swachhta Status Report in 2015, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country still defecates in open.

Eliminating Open Defecation in India by 2nd October 2019 – the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi – is one of the key aims of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan movement launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi two years ago on Gandhi Jayanti.

As per the most recent Swachhta Status Report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), in 2015, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country still defecates in open —a major public health and sanitation problem.

How does India compare with other countries?

India fares poorly. According to data compiled by r.i.c.e, Sub-Saharan Africa, which had 65 per cent of the GDP per capita of India, had only about half of the rural open defecation compared to India.

In Bangladesh, only 5 per cent of rural people defecate in the open, significantly lower than that in India.

Read the complete article.

How One Organization in Hyderabad Is Helping People Manage Waste in a Responsible & Scientific Way

How One Organization in Hyderabad Is Helping People Manage Waste in a Responsible & Scientific Way | Source: The Better India, September 13, 2016 |

Sixty million tons of garbage generated per year; 45 million tons of untreated waste disposed of in an unhygienic manner every day; and about 0.34 kg waste generated by every person daily – when it comes to statistics regarding waste generation and management in India, the numbers looks quite dismal. wvi2

“We have no organised waste management system in India. We just dump waste and leave it around to pollute the environment. And the main reason behind this is that we do not have the concept of waste segregation at all. At most places, waste is simply thrown in the easiest manner possible,” says Mathangi Swaminathan, the Associate Director of Waste Ventures India (WVI) – a social enterprise that is working in the field of waste management in Hyderabad.

Run by a group of environmentally-conscious individuals, WVI provides waste solutions for housing societies and corporate offices by recycling dry waste and composting organic waste. The company offers doorstep collection of waste in two ways:

  • Collection of recyclable waste only.
  • Complete waste solution with collection of dry as well as organic waste.

Read the complete article.

Facilitating Access to Finance for Household Investment in Sanitation in Bangladesh

Facilitating Access to Finance for Household Investment in Sanitation in Bangladesh, August 2016. World Bank.

Approach to Blended Finance: The provision of an output-based aid (OBA) subsidy to microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Bangladesh is used to help MFIs develop sanitation products and extend their reach to poorer households.

Microfinance (the provision of financial services to low-income people) is emerging as a viable avenue to facilitate increased access to finance for households to water and sanitation products, and for small-scale water service providers’ business development.

OBA is a form of results-based financing where subsidies are paid to service providers based on verification of pre-agreed water and sanitation project targets defined during project design, thereby offering a strong incentive for the delivery of results.

Combining an OBA subsidy with a microfinance loan helps reduce households’ cash constraints by spreading repayment over time, and makes investment in improved sanitation more affordable overall.


Using psychology to change deadly bathroom habits in India

Using psychology to change deadly bathroom habits in India | Source:, Aug 28 2016 |

In two cities in eastern India, Pamela Dalton’s team walks around pointing Nasal Rangers – devices resembling oversized hair dryers – into half-completed community toilets.

Then they sniff.


DEBASMITA MOHANTY Jayalalita Lenka, a surveyor on the Potty Project team, uses a Nasal Ranger to record the odors in a community toilet under construction in Bhubaneswar, India.

Dalton is an experimental psychologist from Philadelphia whose specialty is how people perceive and respond to odors. The odd-looking devices collect chemical data on aromas of all kinds, before and after the toilets are open for use. The goal: Get more people to use the facilities.

 People don’t want to relieve themselves indoors, Dalton said, and the intensity of bad smells is part of the problem. While the smell of human waste is diluted outdoors, without proper sanitation, it concentrates indoors, sending residents to relieve themselves elsewhere.

Poor sanitation is a leading cause of child mortality and disease in the developing world. India has the highest rates of what officials call open defecation, according to the World Health Organization. Many residents of urban slums come from villages where they may never have seen a modern toilet, and have no idea that waste can be infectious.

“People just defecate wherever,” said Dalton, a faculty member at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “They’re used to going outside.”

So Dalton’s team, which is overseeing construction of dozens of new community toilets, is trying to make the new facilities more appealing. Part of that is studying the current state of stench.

Read the complete article.