Pause before pushing more people to ODF (open defecation free)

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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Dear Rajesh,

You wrote: "You lead to a new area - urban (or peri-urban) and i have some ideas but they are better shared in person." Why don't you want to put your ideas here on the forum? What benefit would there be to sharing your ideas only with me "in person" rather than sharing them with lots of people online here?

In the e-mail that you copied above, the author (a male person?) said: "The only relevant objection to it is the ‘lack of privacy’.". Well that is a very real concern, especially (or only?) for woman, isn't it?! So how would that be overcome if you propagate open defecation on soil in villages and towns that are getting more and more populated and crowded? Also can you point to any success stories where villagers have changed their behaviours and are now digging small holes and covering their faeces with soil after each defecation event (the "cat method")? If that was possible it would be good, although in crowded conditions the next user may by mistake uncover the fresh faeces of someone else when they do their own little hole.

I agree in principle that "shitting into water" is a stupid idea whereas "shitting onto soil" is in theory better. But how to make it work in a more and more crowded world is the question. We are running out of space and soil for everyone to shit on soil... The ecosan toilets (UDDTs) which many of us like & favour in theory have sadly not been able to convince enough users or government officials, at least not in India, or so it seems.

I think once the pits of the twin pits are full, perhaps there will be a second push for a more mechanised way of emptying the pits, using proper equipment, pumps, hoses, gloves, masks etc. and proper faecal sludge management and treatment. At least one would hope so. The huge number of new publications on faecal sludge management (FSM) coming out of India indicate that this is happening (see here on the forum: forum.susana.org/53-faecal-sludge-management So it's not all doom and gloom, or is it?

(and I agree with the excellent points made by Patrick Bracken above, which you haven't addressed yet)

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Elisabeth
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  • satyagrahi
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Dear All,

Sharing with you an email sent to me by Indukanth Ragade, author Self Reliance in Water :

I am in total agreement with you on the subject.

Defecation on water is the most lop-sided system for dealing with faecal matter in our country. Water does not do a single positive thing the treatment of faecal matter and it gets itself poisoned in the process! Our forefathers in their wisdom have stated in the Vedas that one should neither urinate nor defecate on water as it is one of the Pancha Bhootaas. Our practice of defecating on soil is the wisest thing as soil is the best treatment unit for excreta. The only relevant objection to it is the ‘lack of privacy’.

In the eco-san toilet, this is taken care of. The SBM is a colossal waste of precious money. The TV ad on the great benefits of the twin- pit latrine is a highly cosmetised one that masks all the negative aspects, because of the use of a celebrity like Akshay Kumar! SCOPE, the N.G.O. in Trichy had been propagating the eco-san toilet in villages and Mr. S, who is running it, had been even invited by the Chinese Govt. to advise them on the method. But he found that there is not much support for this method and he has now switched over to constructing the pit latrines under the Swach Bharart Scheme!

Even if a proper pit latrine is built under the scheme, when the time comes for emptying the composted faecal matter from one of the pits, there will be hesitation as one has to get into the pit to remove the composted material. I feel that this is where the scheme will stumble and crumble. In the case of the eco-san toilet, one can remove the compost standing outside the drum. Such a pity that a great opportunity to bring about a sanitary revolution in our villages has been lost.
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Dear Elisabeth,

Sorry for the delay in accepting your call to continue the discussion (i was in silence for a month).

Thank you for observation: "Bad sanitation can be worse than no sanitation". We are agreed on rural - OD with some followup (covering with ash, keeping sanitation areas to restrict contact, ...) is far better than badly engineered and executed toilets.

You lead to a new area - urban (or peri-urban) and i have some ideas but they are better shared in person. I am closely watching the urban landscape in India as untreated sewage by the billions of tons finds its way into every water body in the country. There are almost no public places left for people to walk, to keep their windows open, ... Mosquitos have become the rulers and people have to cram themselves into smaller spaces with walls and nets and fans and, for the rich, a/cs and air purifiers, to keep the smells and insects out.

Shanti,
Rajesh
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Hi Bracken,

Sorry for the delay in responding to your thoughtful comment.

The rush to build has created a large number of unusable toilets (negligible numbers are non-flush) and OD is the safer option. In fact, it is going to happen anyway as water shortages loom and an inability to clean these cheap toilets make them horrible.

There is no transparency in the numbers and the speed at which the financing has passed is far greater than the capacity to build toilets of any quality.

Shanti,
Rajesh
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Hi Kris,

Sorry for the delayed reply. It has not become a polarized discussion yet! :) Yes, i used some loud headlines to draw attention the side that has no voice.

At this point the theory behind leach pit toilets should be questions in the wake of studies showing that they do not contain fecal contamination.

Shanti,
Rajesh
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  • bracken
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Hi Rajesh,

There are very clear guidelines for the construction of pit latrines to ensure the protection of water resources (including respecting distances to withdrawal points, construction standards, methodologies to ensure the design responds to the needs and habits of the users etc.). When these are not respected, pit latrines can indeed become point source contaminators of groundwater and, in densely populated, can cause biological and chemical contamination over a large area. But open defecation is not a remedy to this. Following the established guidelines is the remedy to this.

The article posted by Ashok extols the "virtues" of OD. The first, that it separates urine and faeces is simply how the body works - OD just ensures that the waste lies unexposed and open to flies and contact to animals and people. The second, that it improves health is simply not true. Indeed it increases the risk of exposure to pathogens if excreta is left lying around. The third, that it saves water, applies equally to any non-flush sanitation system, of which there are plenty.

I agree that the high-speed construction of millions of pit latrines can lead to all sorts of social, environmental and health problems. I would argue that in this case providing toilets is not providing sanitation as they do not "protect and promote human health by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease". But neither does OD, for the most part.
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  • joeturner
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

May I ask a question: Doesn't everyone accept the risk of spread of disease from feet etc from OD?

I can see that pits may indeed cause other problems - but there is good evidence that this disease transfer mechanism is reduced, isn't there?

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  • Ashok
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

We are not universalizing OD.
All we are saying is that the leach pits should not be allowed to become a concentrated source of pollution in the areas
With high water table, Black cotton soil which does not absorb water, rocky and plateau etc.
Do not allow hand pumps or open wells closer to the pits.

Nothing more nothing less.

We can survive with OD but not without PW (Potable water).

I did a study about three years ago, which is attached for those who are interested in India
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  • bracken
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Dear all,
I've been following this discussion since the first post last week and I admit that at first it gave me pause for thought, then it shocked me somewhat to see a blanket call against the use of toilets.

Rajesh, forgive me, but at first your article reminded me of the anti-vaxxer movement and there are still many points in the article that seem to me to be an innocent idealisation of OD, with many unrelated factors conflated to condemn toilets in a broad and general fashion.
My main issue however, is indeed this universal call for OD as a solution for rural sanitation problems. In my opinion this makes as little sense as calling for flush toilets for everyone (and what a disaster that would be!).

The key to any successful sanitation system is its appropriateness in context. If the sector has learnt anything, I hope that it is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to sanitation. Context specific factors need to be used to design the system so that it fits the cultural and social needs of the users, the climatic context, the geographic and geological context, the water resources context, the financial context, the environmental context etc. etc. etc.

If we accept that the purpose of a sanitation system "is to protect and promote human health by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease" then I think in some (and I would argue very rare) contexts, could OD be considered the best solution - however this depends entirely on a range of factors, including population density, likelihood of exposure to viable pathogens, likelihood of drinking water contamination and so on. It seems to me to be extremely unlikely that widespread OD would provide a sanitation system that could be considered fit for purpose. Large scale OD will not lead to a reduction in the disease burden of a population. Granted, the high speed construction of latrine structures may not do this either and there are surely more intelligent ways to address the issue other than centrally driven, top-down roll-outs, but for me that reveals rather a problem of process and not necessarily of principle.

Anyway, just my 2 cents worth on this.
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Dear Ajit,

I am referring to your statement of "it would be in order that certain discussions which are not positive in nature or not helping the Administration are not progressed". I am a bit confused about what you are saying here. I believe the discussion about "pause before pushing more people to ODF" is very interesting and should not be stifled. Yes, it goes against the current mainstream to say "open defecation is not per se evil" but nevertheless we should look at all aspects. I would like this discussion to continue.

Dear all,
Kris (who has also posted in this thread) had previously pointed out in some other discussions that the open defecation discussion should be seen in context - it can make a big difference if open defecation takes place in rural, sparsely populated areas or in crowded cities!

I agree with Rajesh that in rural areas open defecation with covering of the feces with soil could well be a better solution than a stinky filthy pit latrine that might be in danger of collapsing and that nobody likes to use, or a flush toilet that just pollutes nearby water sources. "Bad sanitation can be worse than no sanitation", like we discussed previously on the forum as well.

But for urban areas I cannot picture how open defecation could possibly be a workable solution. I copy a section from the blog post (medium.com/@aandolan/please-do-not-use-that-toilet-2b958fd9ff67):

Very well, you may say, OD makes sense in rural areas, especially dry rural areas such as the entire Deccan plateau and Rajasthan, Saurashtra, and Kutch. Maybe even in extremely wet rural areas like Bengal where contamination can turn into a huge issue. But, you may then ask, are you advocating it for urban areas too?
That is another entire discussion. Let’s leave it for the future with one thought: should we not consider the urban toilet users, 90% of whose output ends up uncontained — in lakes, streams, and rivers — as practicing a form of OD?


What do you have in mind?

By the way, there is a term called "institutionalised open defecation" which refers to sanitation systems where the faecal sludge collected from pit latrines and septic tanks is dumped into the environment - which is in line to what you are saying. See my recent forum post about that here .

Regards,
Elisabeth
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  • AjitSeshadri
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Dear Dr. Ashok Kmr Jain.

I have seen your notings, and also the valid points raised by our Forum Members, it would be in order that certain discussions which are not positive in nature or not helping the Administration are not progressed .

At best when certain solutions or guidance is reached, then for benefit of Members, we could discuss the remediations in Forum.

Till then you may feel free to discuss with Members on their email IDs. For your info, mine is -- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. --

with well wishes ,
Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, and
Head-Environment , VigyanVijay Foundation, Consultant (Water shed Mngmnt, WWT, WASH, others)Located at present at Chennai, India

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Pause before pushing more people to ODF

Why does this has to become such a polarized discussion?

It is sad to see that apparently the Indian government has managed to implement a theoretically good idea (improve the sanitation situation in rural areas) in such a bad way that it drives well educated people to go on the barricades against it.
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