A multi-purpose toilet for Chetibai

Thumbnail WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Chetibai Kopodi has come a long way — from defecating in the open to accessing a well-made toilet at home, she narrates the several positives of constructing the unconventional EcoSan toilet at home.

“I have never used a toilet before, so I cannot comment whether mine is better than a normal one. But all I know is that soon I will be able to use the manure and urea in my fields,” shares forty-year-old Chetibai Kodopi, a resident of Sonpur village in Kanker district in Chhattisgarh.

Sonpur is over a hundred kilometres away from the state capital, Raipur with a population of 602 (as per Census 2011). Agriculture is the main profession of this village, and access to clean drinking water and decent toilets has been a key concern for the village.

Chetibai was the first in her village who got an EcoSan toilet constructed in her house. While open defecation was a huge issue until a few years ago, Chetibai opted for a toilet at home as her daughter was growing up and safety was becoming an issue of concern. “Despite the fact that a number of wild animals have been spotted around the village, women, and girls venture out to find secluded places to relieve themselves. This was always a concern for me. More so, as my daughter is now twenty-years-old, a young woman, would walk to the interiors of the jungle at wee hours,” adds Chetibai.

Chetibai Kopodi, outside her EcoSan toilet at homeWaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Chetibai Kopodi, outside her EcoSan toilet at home

About two years ago, Chetibai attended a few discussions organised by WaterAid India and its partners. Chetibai’s sister-in-law and Sarpanch of the village, Indira Kopodi, mobilised the village to construct toilets. As Chetibai initiated the construction of a toilet at home, the work began with the first step as digging the ground to construct a septic tank. “When the hole was dug, we saw a lot of water seeping through the ground and making the soil moist. We were told that this would create a problem for all the waste to collect in the septic tank, as it is supposed to be dry for long-term functioning. We spoke to a few people in the village, but couldn’t understand neither the reason behind the presence of so much water in the soil nor the solution to build a toilet that is viable,” shared Chetibai.

Chetibai Kopodi’s house at the left, and the high water table on the rightWaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Chetibai Kopodi’s house at the left, and the high water table on the right

The Sarpanch of the village, along with WaterAid India and its partner analysed the land and groundwater level. It was learned that the groundwater table was quite high in this region, and so wastewater would seep into the pits dug for waste collection. They also realised that if a toilet is constructed, then it would contaminate the groundwater with faecal pathogens. To overcome this issue, EcoSan (ecological sanitation) toilets were introduced as an ideal solution. They do not only require less water but also convert waste into manure that can be further used as fertilizer for agriculture.

EcoSan toilets are cost-effective, and their operation and maintenance are also low. They do not need much water, electricity, as well as a sewage treatment system. An EcoSan toilet has two chambers and each chamber is used alternatively for about 12 months. Segmentation of the two chambers is critical in such a toilet design. Each chamber is further divided into three sections. Urine, faeces, and cleansing water goes into separate holes. To prevent water or soil from coming in contact with the faeces, the floor of the toilet is also paved with concrete.

Inside view of the EcoSan toilet at Chetibai Kopodi’s home (WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan)WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
Inside view of the EcoSan toilet at Chetibai Kopodi’s home

“There is hardly any smell or difficulty in using the toilet… One of the major difference is that we use ash to clean the toilet instead of water. And it has many benefits, such as safety of my family, preparing manure in the long run, and maintaining the cleanliness of the village as well. So, other people in the village are accepting these toilets too. Moreover, now my daughter does not have to go out in the open to defecate, be exposed to wild animals or compromise on her safety,” shared Chetibai.

An additional advantage of this toilet is that the manure collected in due course of time can be sold at nominal rates and can thus add on to a family’s income. Chetibai, with a fairly new toilet, looks forward to beginning with the process of using the collected waste for manure.

In Sonpur village, EcoSan toilets have emerged as a sustainable concept to fix the issue of faecal sludge management. With orientations and training sessions about the right use of EcoSan toilets, they are being widely accepted by the villagers. This has resulted in the construction of 70 EcoSan toilets across four panchayats in Kanker district.

Villages like Sonpur, home to over a hundred households, are opting for new toilet technologies for long-term sustainable solutions. While ending open defecation is the need of the hour, yet adopting toilets that are appropriate as per the terrain and region is equally important to ensure that decent toilets and good hygiene are enduring and achievable.