Post ODF: Solutions to consider

4 min read
Post ODF (Open Defecation Free): Solutions to Consider

Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has made significant strides over the last five years by providing underserved areas with access to toilets and encouraging their sustainable use. As we chart the course ahead for SBM, it is imperative that along with onsite sanitation systems, there needs to be a parallel development of faecal sludge treatment options in order to stop illegal and unsafe methods to dispose faecal matter. 

Census (2011) reported over 40% of toilets in rural India with septic tanks (amounting to 38.5 million in numbers). A more recent study by WaterAid India found that despite the Government increasing promotion of twin leach pit toilets, there is a high preference for septic tanks among those aspiring for better toilets. As many as 24% toilets built in just over 1,000 households covered under the study, had preferred septic tanks as a better technology option. The WaterAid India study also found that a large number of structures built as ‘septic tanks’ did not actually confirm to standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards thus increasing the risk of contamination in the long run. Additionally, there seems to be an increase in the number of single pit toilets instead of twin pits. More recently, data  from the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey 2018-19 suggests that only 26.6% toilets are twin leach pits, close to 28% toilets are septic tanks, and 6% are tanks without a soak pit. 

Looking at the emerging data, it is clear that there is a strong need to go beyond toilet construction and to make sure that faecal pathogens are also prevented from entering the environment and posing a serious health risk. One common pathway for pathogens is the contamination of water bodies and groundwater, via overflows and infiltration from poorly built sanitation systems. This has a strong negative impact on human health, and may contribute to explain why rural India has seen only modest improvements in nutrition despite a spike in toilet coverage in recent times.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India (now rechristened as the Jal Shakti Ministry) approached WaterAid India to demonstrate Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) pilots to support its objectives under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The organisation also nominated as a member in the expert committee to support the implementation of such pilots. In this context, WaterAid India identified various locations in its intervention areas for pilot demonstrations. As a capacity building exercise for employees working on FSM pilot projects, it also organised a two-day training program in collaboration with Athena Infonomics with the aim to familiarise FSM Toolbox interface and its concepts to employees to use them in planning and implementation of FSM pilots.

The FSM Toolbox is a web-based platform offering a suite of tools and resources that guide planners and sector specialists to understand the sector, diagnose problems, plan, and design, operate and monitor interventions in the faecal sludge management space. The toolbox specifically seeks to educate and guide users on technical standards, approaches to plan new interventions, and at the same time encourages stakeholders to make informed decisions using survey-based inputs. 

The two-day training was designed to provide participants with a detailed workflow for the new toolbox understand various tools and components of the toolbox and get familiar to using the toolbox 

for FSM planning. The training agenda was broadly divided into two segments: assessment and planning, following the structure of the toolbox. 

The participants provided valuable feedback and suggestions, some of them illustrated as below: 

  • The tool modules need to be contextualised to accommodate rural areas. For instance, the questions are all addressed to cities, which needs to be contextualised to a village or rural administration area
  • The output reports should be made available in word document format or there should be text boxes where the participants can note down detailed observations. This would enhance quality of the report and make it more contextual
  • As the toolbox is such a powerful data collection and analysis tool, there should also be an option to customize the questionnaire, which would enable the users to collect a variety of information outside the scope of FSM, such as safe hygiene practices, gender and equality related issues, water supply, etc. 
  • The tool should be translated in Hindi and other regional languages which would increase its applicability in the Indian context

WaterAid India understood the tool and assessed its applicability in FSM activities, particularly in rural areas. The organisation further plans to apply this tool in FSM planning and decision-making activities.
Once improved by integrating suggestions, the tested tool with commendable pedagogy will be ready for upscaling on ground with community organisations, not-profit organisations and other rural authorities.

Shivani Sood is FSM Project Coordinator at WaterAid India.