Eco-toilet in India helps farmers make their own fertilizer

If you live in developed parts of the world, watch out, because this article is going to talk about two things that might make you say ew: the open defecation problem and the use of human waste as fertilizer. Many people in the world have good reason to address both of these issues. And nonprofit World Neighbors is simultaneously addressing both in rural communities in Bihar, India.

The problem of open stool

Open defecation means number two that happens outside a toilet. In fields, waterways, bushes, forests, streets, anywhere. The countries where this happens the most are India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia. People who are not used to this situation may think that the problem is lack of toilets. While that is part of the blame, other factors also come into play.

Related: High-tech public toilets proposed for San Francisco could recycle rainwater for reuse

The Indian government has been working hard to make life more sanitary, notably by building more than 95 million toilets around the country. Following this achievement, the country declared itself Open Defecation Free (ODF) in 2019. But many people are not toilet fans.

“We have been defecating in the open for many years, it has become more of a habit now,” Vandana Kumari, a resident of Bargadia village in Uttar Pradesh told The Wire. “Toilets built in households are mostly left unused. We tried to use it but the sludge flows through drains which are located right in front of our house. It is a 10 to 15 minute walk to the jungle where we find that it is safe to defecate openly.”

For those who are used to using fields, wanting to do it in your home is completely rude and counter-intuitive. Indian Hindus also have cultural taboos about cleanliness and cleanliness that exclude the cleaning and maintenance of toilets—tasks perceived as appropriate for the untouchable caste. Indian Muslims have been quicker to welcome toilets into their homes. Some experts believe this explains why Muslim children have a better chance of living to celebrate their fifth birthday, despite being a disadvantaged minority in India. Open stools can also be the reason that one in five Indian children have stunted growth.

Some of the objections are practical. Septic tank toilets – one of three toilet types widely used in India – have a bad habit of collecting sludge in drain pipes close to homes. This makes the risk of exposure to fecal bacteria worse than using a field. In drought-prone villages, people would rather use limited water for drinking and washing than for toilet flushing.

World Neighbors works in Bihar, India

The international development organization World Neighbors is helping people in rural communities in the Madhubani district of Bihar to tackle the problem of pollution from open defecation and convert hazardous waste into usable fertiliser. Bihar is a northeastern Indian state bordering Nepal.

World Neighbours’ project involved 2,500 households in 20 rural areas. The organization focused on water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and reproductive health to reduce disease and raise living standards. After the intervention, three of the villages involved obtained ODF status from their village councils. Dalits, aka untouchables, lived in 12 of the communities and had substandard water, sanitation and hygiene practices.

“About 76% of the population of North Bihar lives under the recurring threat of floods,” according to World Neighbors. “This adds another dimension to human waste management. What is excreted in the open can wash into streams, rivers and other water sources, greatly increasing the risk of disease to humans and livestock.”

A picture of EcoSan, a toilet

We present the EcoSan toilet

EcoSan toilets are dry toilets built on raised platforms with separate concrete chambers underneath.

“After defecating, sprinkle a handful of ashes and close the lid,” said World Neighbors. “No flushing is required. There are separate outlets for urine and washing so no water enters the excrement chamber.”

This dry approach cuts down on odors and insect breeding and speeds up decomposition. A household uses a pan and a chamber for up to six months. When it is full, they seal it and use the other chamber. Before they have filled chamber two, the contents of the chamber have turned into odorless compost suitable for fertilizer. Household members mix water with the urine collected in a separate container for an additional fertilizer. The cost of each EcoSan toilet is between $250 and $375, depending on location and transportation costs.

Interior view of a toilet seat

Golden fertilizer

This human manure fertilizer has a name: Sona Khad, which means gold manure. Spending six months in EcoSan breaks down pathogens in faeces, minimizing the risk of introducing bad stuff into soil or water. Sona Khad is cheap and nutritious, with plenty of phosphorus to support plant growth. Instead of buying artificial fertilizers, the EcoSan toilet lets farming families make their own. The urine fertilizer is a natural pesticide.

Helping people in rural India improve their sanitation and their crops is just one of World Neighbors’ projects. The organization works in 14 countries across four continents, mainly in the areas of sustainable agriculture, community-based natural resource management, community and reproductive health and gender equality. The toilet project fits into all these areas.

Via The Wire, World Neighbors

Images via World Neighbors and Pexels


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