Introducing an Innovative Sanitation Project

Editors Note: In this guest post, Wherever the Need, a UK-based charity that develops and builds eco-toilets, discusses its Sanitation First project in Tamil Nadu, India. A version of the piece originally appeared here.

Introducing an innovative sanitation project

Credit: Wherever the Need

Tamil Nadu, on the Southeast coast of India, is considered to be one of the wealthiest states in the country, but behind the economic and industrial growth lies another story — one of acute poverty.

We have started to work with six of the poorest villages in rural Tamil Nadu. Not a single family in these communities has access to a toilet, which means that the local environment and water sources are polluted, spreading illness and disease. Diarrhoea remains one of the biggest killers of children in the region.

Family ecosan toilet in Tamil Nadu, India. Credit: Wherever the Need

Family ecosan toilet in Tamil Nadu, India. Credit: Wherever the Need

So what are we doing?
We are putting Sanitation First, and working to make sure every person in all six villages has access to good sanitation facilities. We are building ecosan (composting) toilets for each and every family within the villages.

Why is this innovative?
What’s new and exciting is that we are providing a sanitation service to maintain the programme. We are employing a care-taking team to empty the toilets and make sure the facilities are well-maintained and clean.

How do we pay for this?
This is the great bit — there is money to be made from poo! We store and compost the waste collected from the toilets, and sell it to generate income. This means that the programme is not just ecologically sustainable, but financially sustainable too.

Using this model we can support a cluster of 5-6 villages in one area. In due course we hope to roll out the programme to new areas and communities.

Initial trials have been so successful that our work has come to the attention of both local and central government in India. The Tamil Nadu State government is so impressed that they are subsidising the programme, providing 35% funding for every family ecosan toilet that we build.