As in many parts of rural India, open defecation is a widespread practice in Bihar, impacting health, livelihoods and the environment. Dry sanitation systems generally offer the most viable alternative to open defecation in areas with limited access to modern water and sanitation infrastructure. However, changing practices, and policies, on a significant scale can be difficult – health and environmental arguments are often not enough. The pilot projects addressed these challenges in a variety of ways tailored to different local conditions and attitudes.
All of the systems introduced in the pilot communities are designed for “productive”, or ecological, sanitation (ecosan), allowing the treatment and safe reuse of human excreta in agriculture and thus turning dangerous waste products into economically valuable resources.
Involving a range of local partners, pilot projects under the joint initiative have introduced common facilities for schools, communities or institutions, or worked directly with households. Some have introduced systems to collect and treat both urine and faeces; others focused on urine harvesting, as a first step towards building acceptance of sustainable sanitation. One is holding agricultural trials to demonstrate to visitors the effectiveness of treated urine as a fertilizer.
The pilot projects have promoted good hygiene practices along with sanitation. Women and girls are specially targeted, as lack of private sanitation facilities and knowledge about menstrual hygiene management (MHM) can make them especially vulnerable.
A new water and nutrient-testing laboratory was established in Patna, the capital of Bihar, supporting the pilot projects and serving the public on a cost-recovery basis. By the end of the initial funding period, the project had achieved widespread uptake of sustainable sanitation in the target communities, along with replication in other communities as well as interest and support among local decision-makers. The work continues in and beyond the pilot communities thanks to the efforts of the local partners and residents.
The initiative was funded by a three-year partnership-driven grant (December 2010 to January 2014) from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Local implementing organizations included New Opportunities for Women (NOW), the Shree Krishna Gyan Mandir Society, the Society for Community Organization and People’s Education (SCOPE), the Systematic Agro-based Research Institute (SABRI), Tarumitra Bio-reserve and Ecology Centre, and Water Action.