Delhi: Achieving ODF Status

With the fact that nearly 35% of Delhi slum dwellers still practise open defecation, most of community and public toilets in the capital remains non-functional; the present scenario doesn’t seem to meet the goals of Delhi Master Plan for making the city Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2015. Ajay Sinha, Chief Operating Officer, Feedback Foundation Trust addresses the key challenges in achieving the goals.

Open Defecation: Health Outcomes

ODF-Status.jpgAbout 270 tonnes of faeces are discharged into the open environment leading to public health hazard, environmental pollution (CO2 and methane) and compromising the safety and security of the people, especially of the women. The unsafe disposal of human excreta imposes significant public health and environmental costs to urban areas that contribute more than 60% of the country’s GDP. As per the NUSP, impacts of poor sanitation are especially significant for the urban poor, women, children and elderly people. The loss due to diseases caused by poor sanitation for children under 14 years alone in urban areas calculated to amount to `500 crores at 2001 prices, and consequently, far higher amounts at current prices. About 60-80% of diseases can be attributed to faecal-oral transmission and ingesting of faeces by all irrespective of class, creed, religion and socio-economic status. There are reports that contamination of water aquifer is linked to faecal contamination. Diarrhoea is the second largest killer of children in India. Apart from diarrhoea and other faeces borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, stunting among children, malnutrition, recent rise in Dengue and Chikengunia – can be attributed to faeces and other wastes in the environment. The impact of open defecation is not only affecting the people in slums but also others living in urban Delhi as these faeces through faeces- oral track route by flies, fluid, food, fingers, air and others solid and waste.

Sanitation’s close links with health, education, malnutrition and poverty make it an important contributor to the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG).

Key Challenges

Sanitation-situation.jpgNon-functional community toilets: community and individual toilets are sanitation facilities used by people in the slums. However, community toilets constructed by various agencies such as MDC, DUSIB and NGOs are generally found to be non-functional because of various reasons. Based on the survey carried out in seven slums in South Delhi, it was observed that out of six community toilets constructed by various agencies at some point of time, none of them are in use as shown below. In fact all these toilets are in dilapidated conditions.

- Awareness creation does not bring about behavior change. This is a first step to behavior change. As a result, people are aware about the ills of open defecation but it has not translated into behavior change.

- Subsidy has been a barrier to total sanitation. People spend money on treatment of diseases due to open defecation but not willing to construct the toilet.

- Conventional IEC strategy such as poster, hand-outs, leaflets, pamphlets, wall writings, songs, skit etc has not been effective behaviour change. Alternative triggering tools and techniques have been very collective behavior change.

- Focusing on toilets does not impact sanitation outcomes. The focus should be on collective behavior change. Even 1% defecating in the open puts the health of everybody at risk.

- Focus on limited technology options deter people to go for no-low cost technology options.

Model diagram of a leach-pit safe toilet

The comparative advantages and disadvantages of community and individual toilets, in the context of slums, are given Table 2.

Individual toilets are the preferred choice compared to community toilets in any settlement. The land (space) required for construction of an individual toilet is 2x2m. Individual toilets are safe and within the reach of any individual in the house – be it women, children or the aged. The ownership of community toilets is low as compared to an individual toilets and the maintenance of community toilets becomes a tall order unless one has a committee formed to look after the O&M of the same with proper zeal to do so. Mobile toilets in such settlements are never a preferred choice, since they are primarily meant to cater to floating / mobile population (like during melas/events of short duration or even static population for a certain period like workers in construction site etc.). It can never be a permanent solution for a static population. Cleaning of mobile toilet (sludge) is also a problem these days as scavengers are not available and dumping of the sludge in any place is hazardous.

“Besides the lack of operation and maintenance, the main reason for open defecation is that urban communities are unable to establish the invisible direct link between open defecation and how it affects them and others, impacting everybody’s health, dignity, privacy and convenience. Therefore, the focus should be on changing the ‘collective behaviour’ of the entire population as one person defecating in open can put everybody at risk.”


• Delhi Master Plan should have clear cut vision & plan to make the city Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2015.

• Provision needs to be made in the policies for allowing construction of individual toilets in slums. Based on NUSP guidelines, currently the policy guidelines are detrimental to improv sanitation situation in the city. As per the guidelines, the slum dwellers are not allowed to put up a brick in the house as it is illegal. The onus lies on various agencies to ensure that the same is possible for such settlements and that the communities in these settlements are not harassed by police/forest official for building toilets in their HH premises. This shall be in accordance to the land tenure and based on NUSP guidelines. However, building of toilets shall not give the community the ownership of the land per se.

• Various effective community mobilization tools & techniques need to be adopted to mobilize entire Delhi involving all stakeholders Vis Citizen’s, NGOs, Civil Societies, Slum Dwellers, Departments, Media etc.

• No construction of community toilets should happen unless and until the demand is generated by the community and in those areas where households have no access to space to construct individual toilets. Further for any community toilets constructed in such settlement, the agencies doing the same needs to give a handholding support to the community for a minimum of 6 months before it withdraws from the community and the same is handed over to the user community who shall henceforth manage and run the same.

• Open Defecation Free (ODF) wards/slums need to be prioritized for all development schemes.

• Community toilets should have features to address the needs of children, aged, disabled and women and should be user friendly.

Government Initiatives

comparative-analyses.jpgThe Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) envisage extending access to improved sanitation to at least half the urban population by 2015 and 100% access by 2025. This implies extending coverage to households without improved sanitation and providing proper sanitation facilities in public places to make cities open defecation free. The government had launched various schemes to address the issues of sanitation such as Jawahar Lal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), Rajiv Awas Yojana, Integrated Low Cost Sanitary Schemes (ILCSS) etc.

Community Led Approach

The Citizen Led Total Sanitation approach is a powerful tool for collective behaviour change that promotes participatory community analysis and collective local action. Using the principles of the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, it addresses the issue of sanitation as a public good arising as a result of collective community effort and local action by community groups, and not as a private good owned and used by an individual household. This also entails that CLTS views sanitation primarily as an issue of collective behaviour change, with technology as a significant but secondary issue to be addressed by triggered communities themselves. Communities could benefit from external facilitation to access information on technology on a demand responsive basis, as required. The key principles of the CLTS approach are as given below:

• Establishing appropriate institutional frameworks: Giving local governments a central role in scaling up and sustainability.

• Using a holistic and all inclusive approach that focuses on communities and not households. Natural leaders are motivated, trained and supported to lead community mobilization in their area of influence.

• Low dependency on external subsidy: Leading to higher achievement utilizing limited government finances.

• Focus on elimination of open defecation: Leading to acceptance of locally available, accessible, affordable, innovative and customizable technologies

• Igniting behaviour change – sustainable, community monitored, focused on outcomes.

• Market development (development of sustainable supply chain as per community needs): Promoting the availability of sanitary materials and allowing private suppliers to respond to the demand.

Why individual toilets are preferable to community toilets to attain ODF status?

Community toilets and individual toilets are two of the preferred options available with the slum dwellers. Community toilets are based on septic tank technology. However, in absence of proper sewerage network and sludge treatment plant, these septic tank based community toilets may pose environmental and health hazards. If the tanks are not cleaned from time to time or if not treated or safely during cleaning and disposal process, they are more harmful than open defecation. A majority of community toilets are non-functional because of two key reasons: (i) Community has not been engaged in the process behaviour change and (ii) lack of ownership and established community centric O&M system. Moreover, they do pose safety hazards for women during use at night. In fact, many community toilets are found to be closed during the night forcing the users to go for open defecation at night.

Reinventing the toilets

The recent ‘Reinvent the Toilet’ Fair co-hosted by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Urban Development witnessed some of the most disruptive toilet prototypes that may help ending open defecation in India.

Already preparing the field trials, DCI Engineering showcased its Faecal Sludge Omni Ingestor. The FSOI System, which is conceived as a solution for a business owner to use to extract contents of latrines while helping to reduce sanitary risks, is designed to fit on the back of a motor vehicle with an open-top, rear cargo area (a pickup truck or lorry) with a pumping mechanism that can reach distances of 50 metres.

Aimed to stimulate discussion and spur partnerships to improve global sanitation and bring affordable sanitation solutions to people that need it most, the show also displayed e-toilets that incorporates full cycle approach in sustainable sanitation by integrating convergence of electronics, mechanical, web-mobile technologies thereby controlling entry, usage, cleaning, exit, and remote monitoring capabilities with multiple revenue options.

The insertion of a coin opens the door of the eToilet for the user, switches on a light-thus saving energy-and even directs the person with audio commands. The toilets are programmed to flush 1.5 litres of water after three minutes of usage or 4.5 litres if usage is longer. It can also be programmed to clean the platform with a complete wash down after the toilet has been used, say, five or 10 times.

To date, over 400+ eToilet units and 200 Sewage Treatments Plants have been set up across India and another 80 eToilets are in the pipeline in Kerala. It is also worth noting that eToilet has won over 25 awards nationally and internationally.