Our work: in the field

A toilet in every home is a good first step towards increasing its usage. Yet, the second most important factor to ensure toilet usage is its design and a good sewerage system. A good toilet should not only provide a better experience to the user, but should be sustainable. The country is working towards putting an end to open defecation. What is critical at this point of time is to ensure that these toilets are environment friendly as well.

WaterAid India (WAI) provides technical support to construct toilets based on the region’s topography. Here’s a look at the toilet designs promoted by WAI –

1. Twin pit

A twin pit toilet is suitable for rural areas with low water table. It is a cost-effective, simple and sustainable solution that also manages faecal waste well. Also, it is appropriate for varied physical, geological and hydro-geological conditions. The twin pit toilet design consists of two pits and a Y-junction so that one pit is functional at a time. Once the first pit fills up, the flow gets redirected to the second pit. Generally, it takes about 5 to 8 years for a pit fill up. Once full, the faecal matter stands undisturbed and the second pit collects the waste. In 1-2 years, the faecal matter from the first pit converts into manure, fit for human handling and use. The honeycomb structure of the pit lets the excess black water seep out. The remaining manure is also good for commercial use.

Quality and sustainability of toilets
A newly constructed twin pit toilet under the Swachh Bharat Mission Padhariya Village, Dindori, Madhya Pradesh.
Image: WaterAid/Ronny Sen

Hence, a twin pit toilet does not need a sewer network and is a workable solution to manage human waste. Although a larger space is appropriate to construct a twin pit toilet, the cost is still low. The other advantage of the twin pit toilet design is that there is no hassle of emptying the pits. When the first pit is full, the flow of excreta just has to be diverted to the second pit while the first slowly through the natural bio-organic process gets converted into manure.

2. Bio toilets

Bio-toilets are an appropriate design for areas with a rocky terrain. Communities prefer these toilets over regular leach pit and septic tank toilets. The reason being a) a regular leach pit comprises deep chambers for septic tanks that cannot be dug on a rocky terrain, and b) a bio-toilet does not need regular emptying of faecal sludge. Bio-toilets are a good alternative for septic tank toilets as it does not need emptying. A lack of sewerage network and drainage system leads to an overflow from septic tanks. This causes unsanitary conditions and leads to contamination of nearby water sources.

A bio toilet under construction in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh
A bio toilet under construction in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh
Image: WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

The digester chamber in bio-toilets is dug in the ground. It has three chambers, comprising the bacteria called — Microbial inoculum — a specific high graded bacteria that decomposes the human waste. Poly-grass mats, lined on the walls of the chambers, help to multiply the bacteria.

A closer look into the chambers of the bio toilet
A closer look into the chambers of the bio toilet
Image: WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

The first section, filled with 200 litres of bacteria, collects human excreta. It clears the waste and transfers about 70-80% clean water to the next section of the digester. The bacteria further cleans the water and transfers water to the third section. This three-step filtration transfers clean water to the soak pit; which can be used for irrigation and other household chores.

3. EcoSan toilets

EcoSan toilets are ideal for extreme areas like deserts, rocky terrains, coastal areas, and earthquake-prone zones. EcoSan toilets are cost-effective, and operation and maintenance is also low. They do not need much water, electricity, as well as a sewage treatment system. The pits do not need emptying, unlike other designs. An EcoSan toilet has two chambers and each chamber is used alternatively for about 12 months. Segmentation of the two chambers is critical in such a toilet design. Each chamber is further divided into three sections. Urine, faeces, and cleansing water goes into separate holes. To prevent water or soil coming in contact with the faeces, the floor of the toilet is also paved with concrete.

A typical EcoSan toilet with two chambers
A typical EcoSan toilet with two chambers
Image: WaterAid India

Once the first chamber is used for about a year, it is covered and left aside for the faeces to dry out. They decompose in this isolated chamber, and break down into harmless soil nutrients. During this time, the second chamber is used. The toilet is thus based on the principle of recovery and recycling of nutrients from excreta to create a valuable resource for agriculture.

WaterAid India experiments with technologies that cater to area specific sanitation needs. These sanitation options are also eco-friendly in nature as well as cost effective.

The absence of sanitation is acute in rural areas due to lack of proper water and sewage infrastructure. WAI is setting examples with innovative toilet designs for long-term sustained toilet usage to end open defecation.

Which are some of the top NGOs working in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana?

WaterAid is an international not-for-profit organisation determined to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene accessible for everyone, everywhere within a generation. WaterAid India, one of the top NGOs working in the South of India, focuses on tackling these three essentials in ways that can be sustained in the long run.

Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka are where WaterAid India’s key projects are currently operational in the south of India. With the committed support of four partner NGOs, WaterAid India is able to reach out to some of the poorest and marginalised communities in the region.

In Andhra Pradesh, the direct program reach is functional in two districts, namely Chittoor and Vizianagaram, while in Telangana the direct program reach is across Kamareddy and Medak district. In Hyderabad, WaterAid‘s Urban WASH Programme addresses the overall water, sanitation, and hygiene needs of urban slum communities. In Karnataka, WaterAid has a direct intervention programme in Raichur, one of the most backward districts in the state.

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) awareness in schools is also a priority programme in the region. It also includes strong engagement at the state level to establish appropriate operation and maintenance systems for clean water and decent toilet facilities. Also, dedicated efforts are being made to integrate water, sanitation, and hygiene with the overall development of the school.

Ensuring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene across Health Care Facilities is also a crucial component of WaterAid’s work.

There is also a strong focus on the capacity building of government-mandated institutions, such as Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) and School Management Committee (SMC). These empowered committees act as catalysts in addressing larger advocacy issues.

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there is also a great focus on strengthening community-level models around water security and sanitation. Building strong community cadres, such as Basti Vikas Manch, are the key strength of the programme.

WaterAid India extends its work across various states and districts. While the primary focus is on making clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene accessible for all, WaterAid’s intervention work is carried out in the areas of:

  • Rural Sanitation
  • Rural Drinking Water and Security
  • Urban WASH
  • WASH in Schools
  • WASH in Health Care Facilities and Nutrition
  • WASH in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change

WaterAid always aims to work towards making a bigger and sustainable impact by ensuring a people-centric approach by actively encouraging collaboration with various stakeholders to change lives. WaterAid strongly believes that together, we change millions of lives!

In India, WaterAid’s endeavour to reach out to everyone, everywhere with clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. Since its inception in the year 1986, the initial years of work were in addressing water issues but what also came to light was the deteriorating condition of sanitation in the country. Thus, WaterAid’s focus amplified from only water to water, sanitation and hygiene issues.

What came as quick learning was the fact that given the scale of challenges the country faced, the essence of work remained in flexible, innovative and scalable solutions to address and contribute to the organisation’s core objectives. Gradually, WaterAid India (WAI) began its operations beginning with small scale local challenges, looking for localised solutions, involving women as entrepreneurs, developing community led models, and thus adopting a district wide approach.

The approach

Over the years, WAI has evolved from an organisation working to address people’s basic needs to someone with a larger understanding about the current scenario and having collaborative initiatives with key stakeholders and beneficiaries. During the process, it also looked at models of market-based solutions, which keep the poor and especially women at the centre; experimented with approaches, keeping in view people’s rights, and worked towards building a people’s institutions. The extensive ground experience is used to engage in continuous research, and analysis to derive critical insights and evidences.

WAI has demonstrated designs that are resilient to disasters, addresses special needs of people with disability while also integrate water, sanitation and hygiene in diverse outreach programmes.

WAI has nurtured leadership among individuals, civil society movements, and organisations, and has influenced elected representatives and bureaucrats to prioritise access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Today, it has reached a stage where it is now a natural partner of choice for Government as well as non-government actors.

The transition

WAI has evolved from being a UK based organisation working in India to an Indian entity registered as Jal Seva Charitable Trust under Section 25C of the Company’s Act while remaining as an associate of WaterAid International Federation.

It has been part of the transition from Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), where water and sanitation have been accorded a separate Goal – to ensure access to water and sanitation for all.

Need of the hour

The country has seen a shift towards financial decentralisation with the 14th Finance Commission recommendations allocating significant resources at the village level for bottom up planning and implementation of basic services. Yet, people particularly poor and the socially excluded groups continue to linger on the margins, with their constant struggle to access basic quality water and sanitation services.

In the growing face of erratic droughts and floods, an enduring strategy towards management and conservation of water needs desperate attention. Additionally, second generation issues of waste management and context appropriate toilet designs are gradually being focussed on.

Henceforth, WaterAid India strives to make universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene a reality by 2030, the SDG target year.

Global context

From 2017, the United Nations through JMP (Joint Monitoring Project) has set a new minimum standard for water and sanitation services, categorised as ‘safely managed’. With this change, the minimum standards of universal access includes that everyone should be able to enjoy a tap or a bore well on their premises, that the water is ensured to be free from contaminants through regular testing. It also means that everyone has their own private toilet equipped with the systems in place to manage its waste along with a handwashing facility.

While WaterAid India aligns and support the global goal of ‘safely managed’ water and sanitation services, we will not lose focus on ensuring basic services as an interim milestone.

Established in 2010, the Jal Seva Charitable Foundation (JSCF) ensures that clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene are available to everyone, everywhere. To achieve this, JSCF works in close coordination with the government organisations, non-government organisations, campaigns and clubs to broaden the base of programmes at the grassroots, and thus enable greater local relevance and impact.

The transition

JSCF is promoted as an Indian not-for-profit under Section 25 of the Companies Act 1956, and is an associate member of WaterAid International Federation. JSCF also works towards broadening the range of activities that WaterAid India currently undertakes and supports as a liaison office of WaterAid (UK).

For over 30 years now, WaterAid India, now Jal Seva Charitable Trust, has seen the transition from Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), where water and sanitation have been accorded as a separate Goal – to ensure access to clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene for all.

  • To promote and secure the rights of the most marginalised by ensuring access to clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene.
  • To support governments and service providers in developing their capacity for improving WASH facilities and services in the country.
  • To advocate for essential role of clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene in human development.
  • To further develop as an effective global organisation, recognised as a leader, by providing technical support and reaching out to the grassroots.

Strategic goals

  • Empower the most marginalised and excluded in India with to access clean and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services as their right.
  • Support the government and other service providers in developing capacities to improve WASH delivery as a right for the excluded and marginalised in the country.
  • Assist institutions of the legislature and judiciary to improve the policy and legal environment for citizens to realise WASH services as their right.
  • Influence relevant government institutions and programmes as well as external support agencies to mainstream safe and effective WASH services for the excluded and marginalised in projects and programmes across the country.
  • Influence key civil society networks and movements to reflect aspirations of the poor for the rights to WASH.
  • Live our values and further develop ourselves as an organisation that demonstrates leadership, and champion the rights of the excluded and the marginalised.

With the increasing number of erratic droughts and floods, a long-term strategy towards management and conservation of water, sanitation, and hygiene needs desperate attention. Also, other relevant issues such as waste management and context appropriate toilet designs are gradually receiving the much deserved attention.

Thus, Jal Seva Charitable Trust strives to make universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene a reality by 2030, the SDG target year.

India is home to one of the world’s highest number of people who lack access to clean water, imposing a huge financial burden for some of the country’s poorest population. Over 60,000 children below the age of five lose their lives to diarrhoea caused due to unsafe water and poor sanitation.

The quality of water available to the country is in a very poor state. It is affected by sewage discharge, run-off from agricultural fields and urban run-off, and discharge from industries. Floods and droughts, in combination with the lack of awareness and education among users, affects the quality of water in a great way.

The World Bank estimates of 2015 show that in India 28.1 percent of the deaths took place due to communicable diseases. Evidently, these were linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices. These include parasitic and infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies such as underweight and stunting, as well as respiratory infections.

The alarming condition of water quality is based on the fact that the lack of clean drinking water has put over 11.5 million people of India at a high risk of a bone crippling disease, fluorosis. The ministry of health and family welfare has identified 19 states severely affected by high fluoride content in drinking water, and at least 10 states suffering from arsenic contamination causing Arsenicosis – a disease that affects the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver due to arsenic poisoning.

As a part of the government programme, water quality monitoring is being considered as an essential aspect. Since the last two decades, it has been conferred as a high priority measure, and the institutional tools have been developed at panchayat, block, district, state and national level.

WaterAid has been effectively involved in addressing the issue, and creating awareness about water borne diseases amongst the communities. While the government has outlined necessary tools to monitor the quality of drinking water and devise effective Information, Education and Communication (IEC) interventions, WaterAid’s endeavour is to ensure effective implementation at the ground level by joining hands with the government, key stakeholders and community members.

In recent times, the government has advised Field Testing Kits (FTKs) to be used for detection of chemical and biological contamination of drinking water sources in the communities. School teachers, Anganwadi and ASHA workers, Gram Panchayat members and volunteers have been trained from time to time for water quality testing using FTKs. Unfortunately, the execution of such initiatives is not up to the mark. As a consequence, WaterAid has initiated some efforts to bring about a positive change, and improve the execution of water quality testing.

Additionally, WaterAid’s water quality management plan also aims at ensuring –

  • Water safety plans in order to prevent any kind of contamination before it happens;
  • Treatment of water with appropriate technologies (in arsenic or fluoride affected areas);
  • Monitoring, surveillance and testing through FTKs; and
  • Advocacy for adequate infrastructure and accountability at district and regional laboratories.

In order to maintain water quality, the communities play a key role in sustaining cleanliness and hygiene near the water sources. From collecting water from the water source, to storing it, attention needs to be paid at each step so as to ensure the quality of water. It is essential that communities and institutions like panchayats are actively involved in the planning, implementation and execution of programmes for access to clean water and regular supply. Also, these institutions will have to take charge of monitoring of water sources and be made aware of simple remedial measures.

Clearly, this requires training and capacity building at a large scale, for which WaterAid works along with the local partners. In light of the increasing water demand, it becomes mandatory to ensure holistic and people-centred approaches for effective water management.

In India, Groundwater provides 80% of India’s drinking water and nearly two-thirds of irrigation needs1. While rainfall is considered to be one of the primary sources of fresh water, it is not conserved in an appropriate manner, leading to scarcity of water across the country. Studies show that the water situation could be different if rainwater is harvested in an appropriate way.

The increasing decline in the level of groundwater, in many parts of the country, is leading to a lot of unsustainability. It has been observed that in some parts of the country the water levels are declining by over one meter each year. Additionally, lack of proper wastewater treatment from industrial, mining, and domestic sources is resulting in increased contamination of groundwater, leading to potential threats to humans as well as the ecosystems.

Irrespective of the proximity to a water body, there are states that still face water shortage. An evident example of this is Uttar Pradesh. Despite its close proximity to the Ganges, the state still faces water shortage due to lack of water conservation methods.

Water conservation and WaterAid India

Water is a crucial resource for the country today. It is thus essential to not only conserve water but also use it effectively. Due to the growing population, increasing industrialisation, and escalating agriculture scenario, the demand for water has clearly increased over the years. Thus, water conservation is evidently the need of the hour. Although efforts are being made by building dams, wells, and reservoirs, there is still a long way to go.

If the situation persists, clean water is predestined to become one of the rarest commodities soon. So, the people need to be educated about the significance of storing, recycling and reusing water. WaterAid India’s initiative in making water, sanitation, and hygiene accessible for all, endeavours to address the water problems across some of the most marginalised areas.

WaterAid’s approach to conserving water focuses on –

  • Building the capacity of local government and community members;
  • Mapping of water resources and their usage;
  • Motivating the communities to adopt water conservation practices, such as rainwater harvesting;
  • Water budgeting2 and allocation;
  • Improving access to water supply by leveraging government resources; and
  • Advocacy for regulations of water use in water stressed areas and protection of groundwater.

WaterAid India also provides technical support to the local partners and communities across the areas of our work. Capacity building, preparing knowledge banks and behaviour change communication documents, joint impact monitoring and research for community based process are some of the highlights of our work.

The communities and its people are the backbone of WaterAid’s work. Thus, the key to drinking water security lies with the community. By promoting locally owned and managed drinking water sources, water issues are addressed at a larger scale. These plans are simple, and can be used, monitored and managed by the people and local governments.


1. Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), 2016 Report.
2. Water budgeting refers to the calculated amount of water a household will require based on the size of the family, number and types of fixtures, and landscape needs.