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What type of toilets are appropriate for rural India?

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.

A newly constructed twin pit toilet under the Swachh Bharat Mission Padhariya Village, Dindori, Madhya Pradesh

Caption: A newly constructed twi pit toilet under the Swachh Bharat Mission Padhariya Village, Dindori, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: 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.


Caption: A bio toilet under construction in Kanker district of Chattisgarh. Photo: 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.

Village: Hahaladdi, Block: Durgukondal , District: Kanker, State: Chattisgarh, Country: India, Date: 14th February 2018 Hansu Uiky, 24, constructs a bio toilet in Hahaladdi village. WATERAID/2018/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Caption: A closer look into the chambers of the bio toilet, Photo: 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.


Caption: A typical EcoSan toilet with two chambers. Photo: 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.