Toilets, sustainability and SOCHARA journey

Prahlad I M                                 

Often when we speak about sanitation, the question raised is why do people go for open defecation? If there are toilets, why are they not in use? What can be done to the change the behaviour of the community when the efforts made by the government are not up to the mark? The Government of India including several international agencies has initiated several programmes to improve the rural sanitation conditions in India, but the usage has been a big question mark. Social, economic, political, cultural, and ecological (SEPCE) factors determine the sanitation conditions and usage of the toilets in the community.

Understanding SEPCE is important when we start working on sanitation issues in the community. New strategies and approaches are needed for working on these issues. SOCHARA since the inception has been and is using community health approach to tackle sanitation related health problems. Keeping sustainable sanitation as a main objective several community health approaches have been used during our sanitation project and some of them are mentioned below.

Community Health Approach for Sustainability

To ensure sustainability of our work on sanitation some of the Community Health Approaches we have adapted are as follows:  

Networking:- SOCHARA networks with several community based organisations (CBOs) where training is given to the organisational staff, self-help group (SHG) members, and local leaders. The objective of training members from local CBOs is to ensure follow up and encouraging them to sustain the sanitation work in their working areas and to replicate the work when needed.

Triggering:- Using Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) as a base we use different triggering tools such as transaction walk to open defecation area, faecal-oral demonstration exercise, and discussion on the social issues among others. These tools trigger the community and help them to realise the adverse effect of open defecation on individual health.

Appropriate Technology:- To ensure the better defecation practices several toilet technologies have been developed in the country starting from dry toilet to the recent trend of eco-toilets. Construction of toilets using locally available materials can be termed as appropriate technology, where the individuals develop a sense of ownership of the toilets. Appropriate technology is cost effective and is easily available to the community.

Low cost technology:  Low cost technology always refers to low cost materials. We can construct low cost toilet technology in a different ways. Some of the examples are as follows

  • Toilet pit:- We can construct toilet pit using stones, bricks, rings, and other depending on the financial affordability from the individuals.
  • Super structure:- Some of the examples are- attached bathroom with toilet (we can reduce cost of a wall), toilet inside an existing house (we can reduce 3 walls) and   toilet models attached to the wall (can reduce 1 wall).

Resource group formation:- Resource groups play an important role for ensuring sustainability. Individuals and students from the community who are interested on sanitation work, and team members from local CBOs and NGOs form resource groups. These groups are trained on triggering tools, understanding SEPCE factors and construction of low cost toilet technology. Many of the resource groups people who were trained have taken up the activity on sanitation in their respective areas. 

The table indicates the paradigm shift in sanitation work from SOCHARA’s community health approach which needs to be internalised by current ongoing efforts in sanitation.

Paradigm Shift for sustainable sanitation

  Existing focus Community Health Approach
Focus Individual Community and Resource groups
Interventions Directly with the individual user and family Involving community and network partners for ensuring sustainability
Training programmes Orientation and teaching – (top down) Information dissemination and community based learning – (bottoms up)
Technologies Low cost standard toilet technologies Appropriate technology with local innovation
Research focus Bio medical and behavioural Determinants Social, Economic, Political, Cultural and Ecological factors