Viewing Behavior Change Through Another Lens

As is well known and well covered in the media, there is a sanitation crisis in India, with over half the population (roughly 600 million people) forced to open-defecate every day due to a lack of adequate facilities, infrastructure, and even a basic understanding of the importance of healthy sanitation habits. This makes India the world’s biggest culprit in terms of open-defecation, with more than double the amount of the next 11 countries combined.

Additionally, the country loses over US$50 billion dollars per year (roughly 6% of GDP) due to sanitation-related illnesses, one child under the age of 5 dies every 20-seconds from diarrhea stemming from water-borne illnesses, safety of women and girls remains one of the primary concerns in settings where they are forced into the (more…)

Tangible Outcomes To Date

As we prepared the latest progress report update for Project Sammaan, some key insights and learnings, and corresponding milestones achieved, emerged that we wanted to share.

While the most tangible outcomes on this project in terms of operational toilets are still a few months away, the progress made in this last reporting period puts the project on a much firmer ground. This has been possible because we were able to streamline internal systems and establish a much better understanding and collaboration between various stakeholders.


Menstrual Waste Incineration

As we’ve written about rather extensively, Project Sammaan can be viewed as the implementation phase that builds off of insights gleaned from the year-long research study of India’s urban sanitation facilities, the “Potty Project”. Part of this study involved researching the architectural infrastructure of existing facilities to evaluate where problems were arising and what could be done to alleviate them.

One such area of exploration revolved around menstrual waste disposal and the options that were made available to women and girls. Unfortunately, we found that most facilities do not provide mechanisms for disposal of menstrual waste, nor do they provide communications interventions that foster awareness around sanitary practices regarding menstrual hygiene. As a result, many toilets are blocked by pads and towels women attempted to flush and the facility grounds are littered with used sanitary towels. In several instances, toilet booths were blocked and rendered useless due to sanitary pads being dumped in there.


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.



There have been a few posts in the past that have made reference to DEWATS systems in regards to the sewerage challenges the Project Sammaan team has faced. While some of these posts have shed a little light into what DEWATS is, we thought a more detailed presentation was in order.

A DEWATS system has 3 primary components:


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.


DEWATS Evaluation Trip to Nagpur

I had a fairly informative and productive trip to Nagpur on 15th & 16th May along with various Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation officials. We joined a local Center for DEWATS Dissemination (CDD) team to visit various DEWATS (Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems) sites for possible inclusion in the Project Sammaan facilities.

BMC was represented by Ms Sumita Behera (Land Recovery Officer), Mr. Ratindra Narayan Mallick (Executive Engineer) and Mr. Surath Kumar Sahoo (Junior Engineer). Satchit (Regional co-ordinator) and Sekhar (Sr. Engineer) accompanied us from CDD.


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?


The Anil Agarwal Dialogues: Excreta Does Matter

“The Anil Agarwal Dialogues 2013: Excreta Does Matter” conference was a platform for innovators and pioneers in the fields of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to showcase their work along with the new techniques and methodologies that hold the most promise for improved sanitation systems in India.

Organised by the Centre for Science and Environment, this, the second edition of the Anil Agarwal dialogues, was held in the India Habitat Centre. Presenters from both the public and private sector shared case studies from their work to address some of the most pressing concerns for Indian sanitation: What is the current status of India’s fresh water reserves? Where will our fresh water come from in the near and distant future? What is the state of India’s sewage system?


Architecture & Design

Potty Project provided a great deal of detail regarding issues around design that, if improved, could facilitate greater adoption rates of facilities by the communities they serve, and, consequently, reduce instances of open-defecation in these areas.

There will be two broad facility types:

  1. Base Layer: facilities that will include only toilet stalls, menstrual waste incinerators, and handwashing stations.

  2. Enhanced Layer: In addition to the base layer features, these facilities will also have bathing stalls, clothes-washing stations, and retail spaces.