Tag Archives: articles and opinion pieces

“Do it differently: Toilets are not enough to achieve sanitation, India must reinvent the waste business”

In a recent article in The Times of India, Sunita Narain brings up the tried and true dilemma of how throwing new toilets at a city, without an existing waste treatment infrastructure, is not a valid answer to its poor sanitation problems.

"This is because we often confuse toilets with sanitation. But the fact is that toilets are mere receptacles to receive waste; when we flush or pour water, the waste flows into a piped drain, which could be either connected, or not, to a sewage treatment plant (STP). This STP could be working, or not. In the majority of cases, human excreta (our household waste) is not safely disposed but instead discharged, untreated into the nearest river, lake or a drain."

Indeed! We’ve mentioned multiple times on this very site that simply manufacturing and installing toilets, doesn’t answer the call for better sanitation. In the end, any sanitation solution we create needs a corresponding way to deal with the waste we humans create. Be it, gigantic sewage treatment plants or basic septic tanks, we need a place for our waste go instead of our rivers and streams.

Despite this common sense though, we still need efficient ways to remove our waste and transport it into receptacles safely for treatment. For many countries, retrofitting or building new sewerage systems in towns and cities is disruptive and cost-prohibitive, to the point of impossibility.

So, as Narain wrote so well about, Governments are starting to see the value of working within the existing infrastructure.

"Governments are beginning to realise that yesterday’s system can be re-engineered to work for today and tomorrow. They now recognize the fact that septic tanks are decentralised waste collection systems. Instead of thinking of building an underground sewerage network – that is never built or never completed – it would be best to think of these systems as the future of urban sanitation. After all, we have gone to mobile telephony without the landline. Individual septic tanks could be the way to achieve full sanitation solutions."

It’s important remember: sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many times you just have to find different ways to use it.

We encourage you to read Sunita Narain’s article. You can get to it by clicking right here.

“Problems Too Disgusting to Solve”

A recent article by Maria Konnikova on NewYorker.com tackles the topic of the hurdles effective, global sanitation faces on a perception level.  Put simply, people know and accept that we need to fix the world’s sanitation problem.  But when faced with implementing the proposed solutions into their own lives?  They go the route of disgust and avoid it all together.

“Feelings of disgust are often immune to rationality. And with good reason: evolutionarily, disgust is an incredibly adaptive, life-saving reaction. We find certain things instinctively gross because they really can harm us. Human secretions pass on disease. Noxious odors signal that your surroundings may be unsafe. If something feels slimy and sludgy, it’s likely a moisture-rich environment where pathogens may proliferate. Disgust is powerful, in short, because it often signals something important.

It’s easy, though, to be disgusted by things that aren’t actually dangerous.” – From Maria Konnikova’s NewYorker.com article “Problems to disgusting to Solve

It’s an excellent and fascinating read. To read Konnikova’s article in its entirety, click here.

“Choosing the right post-2015 sanitation indicators”


“No doubt, providing people with access to toilets is a critical step. However, what we have found over the years since the MDGs were set is that mere access to toilets does not result in safe sanitation. Toilets are necessary, but not sufficient. Two more steps are required: people have to use the toilets, and the waste contained by toilets must not be released untreated into the environment, where it will make people sick.”

A post recently published on devex.com written by Brian Arbogast, head of WASH for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, talks about post-2015 MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) and how that even if certain goals are met, there are other issues at hand with sanitation that the world is falling short on.

This article only reinforces the narrative of recent posts on abettertoilet.org – ending open defecation AND ensuring waste treatment.

Both are incredibly important metrics for sanitation programming.

“We need to start thinking about — and measuring — our progress in a way that captures the full sanitation challenge, one that captures that cities like Dhaka aren’t today achieving sanitation levels nearing perfect, but rather recognizes they have a long way to go. Fortunately, one single indicator can capture this: the amount of untreated fecal waste that gets released into the environment. A commitment to reduce untreated waste would drive the necessary investments in fecal sludge management in urban and peri-urban areas, while complementing investments to end open defecation in rural areas.”

We encourage you to read the entire article here.

“India: Big push for small cities”

“While access to toilets remains a big issue, improving sanitation services in urban areas requires an integrated approach that includes treatment and disposal of human waste.”

An excellent post on SanitationUpdates.wordpress.com written by Prakhar Jain and Aditya Bhol (researchers with the SCI-FI: Sanitation initiative at the Centre for Policy Research) tackles the problems India is having getting small cities the focus and funds they need to create better sanitation solutions and infrastructure for their people.

As the article illustrates, the situation is both dire and complex, but it’s not unsolvable. With new changes in government and a renewed (and public) focus on urban sanitation and reducing open defecation, there’s hope that India will get its urban sanitation issues moving in the right direction.

It’s a great post that we encourage you to read. You can find the entire article right here.