Designing an Appropriate Sewage System for Odisha

Odisha’s specific environmental considerations, as well as other factors, such as increasing population and large proportion of people living in slums without regular access to water and sanitation, necessitates the design of a sanitation solution that is customised to these constraints.

For Project Sammaan, particularly, it is vital that the sanitation infrastructure designed and deployed as part of the pilot project exemplifies the principles and design ideologies that best meet the needs of the people and the geography of the cities.


Contextualizing Odisha’s Sewerage Problem

The sanitation crisis in Odisha is one of the worst in the country, with a vast majority of the population underserved by existing infrastructure (India Water Portal). The problem continues to escalate, with an influx of people moving in from nearby towns and villages adding to the populations density, particularly in slums, further exacerbating the problem of poor sanitation infrastructure.

An increasing population density means increased pressures on the existing infrastructure. As the number of people accessing the existing infrastructure grows, it becomes a litmus test for the quality of the sanitation services being provided by the local governments, bringing to light the primary stresses and failing points of current sanitation solutions.


A Designer’s Perspective on Sammaan

I am part of the design team and coordinate a lot of Quicksand’s input with the architecture team at Anagram Architects (AA). This includes feedback on designs, coordination of various submissions to the BMC and CMC, and managing updates to the same. I also assist in overall project management, while coordinating inputs to J-PAL on several aspects of software.

A typical day for me consists of several phone calls with Siva and AA and other partners to facilitate various aspects of the project. It also involves writing a few emails about design perspectives to share with partners, as well as writing for, and reviewing, various communication deliverables on the project.


Project Communications Update

May was yet another very busy month for the communications team, with blog activity crescendoing, the Vox Populi video completed, work continuing on the Technical & Design Guidelines document, and, most importantly, Project Sammaan being added to SuSanA, the online sustainable sanitation alliance forum.

As the overall project activities continue increasing, the blog has seen an influx in participation from all partners. Abstract posts about the state of sanitation in India joined those on public relations, branding, project management, and community census activities, making the month of May one of the most diverse in terms of features. These posts present a good snapshot of the wide range of touch-points for Project Sammaan and reinforce its uniqueness in the sanitation sector.


Building Momentum

These are early days still to claim success but we may have finally managed to move the project forward through a small but extremely important milestone – the tendering of public toilets in Bhubaneshwar. The technical sanction and Public Health standing committee approvals are in place and the tender documents await the administrative sanction before they are floated on the e-tendering platform of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation.

Like I said, this is a small but extremely important milestone for the project consortium, and here’s why.


Key Challenges & Lessons

Challenge 1: Driving innovation within stringent cost benchmarks.

 To work within government frameworks implies that each toilet has to beat the benchmark of under USD 30,000 for a 10 seater toilet. These benchmarks are for standard public and community toilets built by government which are known to be a failure.

Challenge 2: Prototyping at scale.

Within the competing constraints of…

> rigorous evaluation methodology that necessitates a large sample size (100+ toilets) and

 > government accountability of providing basic sanitation to all its citizens …how does one prototype at scale?



Project Sammaan is a unique innovation initiative due to the diversity of the organizations working on it: design firms, government bodies, empirical researchers, architectural firms, waste management experts, community engagement specialists, and an interface management team.

This amalgamation of seemingly disparate entities provides a robust and exhaustive approach that ensures community members’ needs are designed for, the facilities are both functional and valued, and the effectiveness of the engagement is thoroughly evaluated.


Four Pillars of Innovation

Potty Project research led to insights around opportunities to improve sanitation service delivery and, consequently, end-user perceptions around sanitary practices. These learnings were cased in four “pillars of innovation”: Operations & Maintenance, Branding Communications, Architectural Infrastructure, and Business Models.

1. O&M

Community sanitation facilities are in an ever-deteriorating physical state with derelict toilet hardware, broken doors or tiles, and accumulating layers of filth seeming an inevitable end for most. Overcoming people’s perceptions around participation in cleaning and maintaining these toilets will be a key challenge.


Recruiting for Research Sessions

Additional disabled user testing needed to be conducted, so we began seeking out participants through various channels.

After failed attempts at recruiting users through various organizations, we decided to use the snowballing method of recruitment where you ask someone you know to connect you to someone they know and so on. We looked closer to home and reached out to our office staff. Our cook, Mr. Dayanand, offered to help us recruit people from his community in ‘Chiragh Dilli’, as well as at a nearby temple where a small community of disabled people beg for alms.


Designing for Disabilities: Findings, Learnings, and Decisions

Meeting with experts, conducting “Potty Lab” exercises, and general field research led to key insights and corresponding decisions across several facility components:

One of our major learnings was, though a lower-height western-style WC might be an ideal choice in terms of comfort, there was a fair bit of resistance as it differed from their preferred habit of squatting.

The reasons weren’t hygiene-related as we had previously believed, but about ingrained behavior and the belief that squatting would help with bowel movements.

From a design perspective, this left us with an interesting dilemma: how could we provide support through a western-style WC and keep it high enough for wheelchair users to side-transfer to while also allowing other users to squat? After some discussions within the team, we realized that the best solution was a ‘low height hybrid WC’.