Education for a New Concept in Sanitation - EcoSan

Reema Banerjee and Dr Shyamala Mani
Waste & Resource Management Group, CEE

In developing countries the estimated mortality rate as a result of illnesses caused by contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation and hygiene is approximately 2.2 million people per year, with approximately 6,000 children per day (WHO/UNICEF JMP 2000). In India, where less than 50% of the urban population and less than 10% of the rural population has sanitary excreta disposal systems, the development of adaptable, practical sanitation systems is critical. One approach—developed, implemented and supported by the Waste & Resource Management Group of CEE and UNICEF Lucknow—is the use of Ecological Sanitation System or EcoSan.

EcoSan is technology that seperates dry and wet portion of human wast
e so that what would normally be pure waste becomes usable compost, fertilizer and even energy. Two models have been used in a CEE pilot project implemented in villages around Lucknow. The first EcoSan model seperates the dry and wet portion of human waste. The wholeEcoSan structure is contained in an above ground model, preventing any chances of contamination of ground water. The black water is diverted to a undrground earthern pot with holes for drip irrigation purpose These pots release water and nutrients that can be utlized by nitrogen rich crops, such as bananas. The grey water find its way to a filter bed, where plants like canna etc can be grown. Meanwhile, dry waste falls into a chamber which is turned into rich compost with the regular addition of ash and a rest period of three months. Each model consists of two such chambers so that when the first fills, it may be kept on rest of the required three months while the other container is in use.

However, what is truly remarkable about the pilot project in Lucknow is not the technology, which is adaptable to the needs and resources of the community, but the development of a community support system for managing and addressing human waste sanitation issues. Before the EcoSan technology could be actually used, CEE undertook extensive work to understand and address community concerns regarding the system as well to create a sense of ownership for the system in individuals and the community. Ownership was fostered in three ways: by working out price-sharing; by arranging meetings and discussions; and by capacity building to understand and use the technology.

After asking for beneficiaries interested in benefiting from the EcoSan system,
CEE evaluated applicants based on their level of demonstrated interest, their income (with preference given for those with lower incomes), whether they have farmland and cultivate it themselves, their willingness to share the cost of the toilet, and their willingness to use urine and feces as manure for their crops. Beneficiaries who ranked highest were selected to receive one of the eight EcoSan systems piloted in the project.

Ownership did not end on the individual level. In order to create social acceptance regarding the reuse of human waste, CEE held various motivational and awareness meetings for different focus groups that targeted and addressed specific concerns. These groups included mahila mandal, farmers, the whole community, Swacchata Samiti, and owners/users. The benefits of EcoSan were explained using approaches and concepts most relevant to the group. For example, the Mahila mandal meetings discussed the interconnection of concepts such as water source, open defecation, pollution, diseases, education, and cleanliness to name just a few. Likewise, farmer groups examined the agricultural benefits of using self-produced, nutrient rich compost from EcoSan and the similarity to the existing use of cow manure.

Finally, CEE placed a special emphasis on the training of local individuals in order to increase the sustainability of the EcoSan toilets. While obviously the group meetings were a
large part of the training, CEE also trained a group of “mobilizers and motivators” as educators and taught the construction and maintenance of EcoSan to a group of local masons. Thus a cadre of masons was developed in both the villages to use skill and knowledge of local villagers.

Educational materials that could be used by the trained local leaders were developed, including guidance notes for the mobilizers and motivators. Two pamphlets, “Ecological Sanitation” and “Application and Significance of Human Waste in Agriculture” were also distributed. The necessary knowledge for training and education regarding EcoSan was integrated into the community. While in other instances, sanitation system in the region are not utilized and are instead used for cow dung cake and animal feed storage room, CEE’s emphasis on ownership improves the potential for sustaining the use of EcoSan systems.

An example of the usefulness of teaching the skills to communities was found
beneficial in a recent flood case at Barabanki. The Waste and Resource Management (WaRM) group of CEE was contacted by UNICEF Lucknow to help address the sanitation problem at Barabanki district of UP, which was facing floods. CEE staff along with the trained cadre of masons helped UNICEF Lucknow construct a model EcoSan toilet in Ibrahimpur Village, Barabanki District.

Using the skills and knowledge of cadre of local masons (developed under the EcoSan project) rather than hiring outside experts, the effort proved to be cost effective and more practical, thereby partially alleviating the sanitation issue in such minor disaster case. It also helped the local mason to earn extra livelihood. In this way, the project also showed t
hat knowledge and skills can become a part of the community values, changing both community knowledge and attitudes towards sanitation issues.

With this initiative of integrating EcoSan into a community, CEE aimed to bring not just new technology to communities, but a new, more sustainable way of thinking about sanitation.

For more information contact:
Dr Shyamala Mani
Sr Programme Director, WaRM
Centre for Environment Education
C-40, Ground Floor, South Extension Part 2
New Delhi - 110 049
Ph: 011 - 26262878 / 26262881

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