By Sugata Roy
KRISHNAGIRI, India,22 November 2013 - Till 2008, every family in Pongvnantnagar village didn’t use toilets and defecated in the open, putting at risk the health of inhabitants as well as the dignity of women. Thanks to innovative EcoSan toilet models supported by UNICEF, close to 200 families in Venu’s village have now toilets. The EcoSan technology has given the villagers of Pongvnantnagar the benefits of health, safety and dignity and improved substantially the income of its inhabitants.
When Venu returned to picturesque Ponagavananthanagar village in Krishnagiri district in southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu after his retirement, he could not believe to see his whole village defecating in the open. “I was shocked to see there were no toilets in my village. It was difficult for me to accept the practice of open defecation,” he explains.
A former employee of the Medical Corps of the Indian Army, Venu immediately got in touch with the block office and constructed a conventional leach pit toilet in his house. But to his despair, the toilet soon stopped functioning. Due to high level of ground water, the leach pit had been flooded, making it difficult for him and his family to use the toilet.
Unsurprisingly, till 2008, every family in Venu’s village didn’t use toilets and defecated in the open, putting at risk the health of inhabitants as well as the dignity of women. “The situation was worse during the rainy season. I even considered relocating to Krishnagiri,” Venu laments.
However, things changed for better in Venu’s village after the introduction of Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) toilet model with support of UNICEF. For regions with high levels of ground water or a rocky terrain, which make it difficult for a conventional leach pit toilet to function, the EcoSan technology has proven to be saviour.
An EcoSan toilet separates faeces, urine and wash water, immediately channels urine and wash water to enrich surrounding soil and convert faeces to compost through dry, sealed storage. As the amount of water required is minimal, this technology is also feasible for areas with poor access to water supply.The urine is collected separately and utilized for farming and the water for washing is utilized by draining it for kitchen gardening.
The compost collected in the sealed compartment is high quality manure. As all the wastes are utilized, the EcoSan toilets
qualify as a zero waste technology.“Though this technology was different from the traditional model, we were the only household in our village to adopt. We felt something is better than nothing,” echoes Venu’s wife, Madhammal. “My daughters and I finally had our privacy,” she adds.
Apart from privacy, the EcoSan technology provided Venu an opportunity to improve agriculture harvest. Venu and his family started using the compost and the urine in their Jasmine and Rose farms. The good yield from the Jasmine farming on the land less than an acre, gave Venu income of of Rs 25,000 ($405) every month. “The last harvest in the Jasmine field was bountiful. I earned over Rs 300,000 ($4850) last year. I look forward to get equally if not better result in the paddy field too,” shares Venu.
Venu’s success propelled 30 households out of 50 to have EcoSan toilets at home. “After learning from Venu and other farmers, I used the compost from Ecosan and found it works wonders,” says Ramasamy, a villager in Venu’s village. Ramasamy built the green toilet in 2011 and finds it useful for his family.
Other villages in Thimmapuram Panchayat did take note of the EcoSan toilets and its benefits but because of previous experiences, did not want to construct one in their household. However when the Ecosan toilet was built in the Thimmapuram Government High School (TGHS) in 2009, students used it and urged their parents to build the same at home.
Fourteen-year-old Sushmitha, influenced her parents to use the Ecosan toilet last year. “First, our parents hesitated. They preferred to go out for defecation. But when I insisted that we want a toilet, they approached our school and learnt about the scheme. Now, we are proud to have EcoSan toilet at home,” Susmitha says.
Susmitha’s class mate Gowthamapriya’s persistent request forced her father to take help from Venu and district officials to construct the toilet at home. Both Sushmitha and Gowthamipriya now feel dignified of the new toilets at home.
Gowthamipriya’s teacher, A. Jayanthi, says that the awareness programme organized among the students has worked wonders. “We were overwhelmed by the response from children who made their parents build toilets,” Jayanthi explains. Jayanthi adds that out of 210 students in school, 120 have constructed Ecosan toilets at home. “It is a wonderful beginning,” Jayanthi concludes.