Bio-toilets can prove to be an excellent means to meet sanitation goals for communities, and also help in improving health and hygiene standards, a case study by Ahmedabad-based Mahila Housing Trust (MHT), has revealed.
To test sanitation solutions, MHT decided to install a community bio-toilet in a slum with the goal to identify a toilet technology that does not require a sewage connection and to see if a bio-toilet could meet community needs.
After considering as many as four potential sites, MHT finalized Baliya Dev no Tekro locality of Ahmedabad for installation of the bio-toilet in late 2018. This was also a case study by MHT to see if bio-toilets were accepted by, and met the needs of slum communities.
“There are about 350 households in Baliya Dev no Tekro, of which about 100 have water, sewer connection, and toilets. The other homes have irregular water connections. None of the homes have sewer lines because the families do not have land rights. The families have been living for the past 35-40 years,” said MHT official.
MHT explained that Baliya Dev no Tekro was selected since there was a demonstrated lack of services, considerable safety risk to open defecation, and an invested Community Awareness Group (CAG). Another important factor that swayed the decision in favour of Baliya Dev no Tekro was Parulben Panti, the president of Baliya Dev no Tekro CAG.
In Parulben’s words, a toilet was needed in the community as there had been an increase in girls and women being molested while making their way to and from the open defecation site. Moreover, it was also embarrassing for them to defecate with men watching, and some even taking pictures.
Additionally, not having a toilet also made menstruation a time of shame for women. Most residents of the area were primarily vegetable sellers, and due to the stigma around menstruation, the women and girls were not allowed to handle fruits and veggies during that time of the month. This meant forgone wages for them.
Even men defecating in the open were not free of risks as instances of being bitten by scorpions and other insects, and being caught in mudslides had also been reported.
Parulben was directly impacted by the risks and difficulties of not having a toilet because of her three young daughters and a son. She had to escort her daughters to and from the open defecation site for safety purposes, but this took away time from her business selling fruits and vegetables.
When MHT approached her CAG about constructing a community toilet, they asked Parulben if she would also be willing to provide space by her home. Parulben realized that this was an opportunity to improve the lives of her family and community, so she agreed to allow construction of the toilet outside her home.
Parulben and the CAG had to overcome significant resistance from some of the community members for installing a community bio-toilet instead of individual soak pit toilets. It was only when people were reminded that there was not enough space in their homes to install individual toilets, and also explained that the bio-toilet was a custom-designed toilet with unique water saving abilities, that the community members supported the project. Four additional community forums were held before installation began in order to select the exact location for the toilet and get input on the installation process.
It was also determined that enough households were willing to use the toilet so as to ensure that enough funds to cover the project’s upkeep are generated.
After the preliminary issues were cleared over two or three months, installation of the bio-toilet started. However, construction had to be stopped because contractors ran into underground electric wires. Since they could not afford a tractor, Parulben took it upon herself to move the mud from the street by hand. Additionally, the type of enzymes used to break down waste in the toilet had to be switched because the original enzymes created a bad smell.
MHT said it also held meetings to teach the community members how to properly clean and use the bio-toilet.
The toilet model used was a Sintex-made plastic Bio-digester tank and accompanying toilet, underground water storage tank, loft tank, and regular water storage tank. This toilet requires a water connection and does not produce methane gas. It uses enzymes to break down waste and recycles water back into the toilet. The toilet uses 1.5 litres of water per usage (standard soak pit toilets use 7-10 litres water per use). Water and waste are then sent to the bio tank to break down the waste, meaning no sewage connection is needed. The recycled water is then reused as toilet water. The model cost Rs. 1.67 lakhs.
The toilet’s maintenance and operations were later handed over to the Parulben-led CAG
“The CAG collects Rs.5 per day from households that use the toilet. This money goes towards regular maintenance of the toilet, paying for electricity to run the toilet, and purchasing new enzymes, which break down the human waste, so there is no need to remove waste from the tank,” MHT said.
As compared to individual soak pit toilets, the bio-toilet is resulting in annual savings of more than Rs. 3,600 per household.
MHT staff went back to Baliya Dev no Tekro in August 2019, eight months after the bio-toilet’s installation, to evaluate how the project was faring. The visits revealed that the bio-toilet is used by 20-22 households or nearly 80-90 people in a day. Members of both the sexes said that they felt safe and comfortable using the toilet.
The residents stressed that their lives have greatly improved since the toilet was installed. They resoundingly said that the toilet was good, and they would definitely recommend it to other communities.
“Parulben and other women no longer have to worry about taking time away from work to ensure the safety of their daughters. Menstruation is no longer an unhygienic time of shame for women, as they have a safe, clean, toilet to use,” said MHT.
The toilet has also led to a behavioral change among the local residents. For instance, people who were skeptical about a community toilet, now ask Parulben if they have permission to use it. Moreover, families send guests to the toilet instead of directing them to open defecation sites.
Bio-toilets the way Ahead
Buoyed by the success of the Baliya Dev no Tekro project, and to help meet sanitation goals, MHT believes that bio-toilets have the capacity to be an excellent means to meet sanitation goals for communities. However, as the Baliya Dev no Tekro case study demonstrated, it is an absolute must for the local community to be informed and invested.
“Had it not been for the involvement and investment of CAG President Parulben Panti, and her willingness to provide space outside her home, the Baliya Dev no Tekro bio-toilet project would not have been successful,” MHT stressed.
It also said that a bio-toilet installed in a community without an invested CAG would not be a feasible project.
MHT said that it is considering hooking up one bio-digester tank and water tank to individual home toilets in the future. This would also meet the community demands of individual toilets without requiring sewage connection.