Open defecation is a rampant issue in India — one that leads to widespread water contamination and can leave women particularly vulnerable to violence by forcing them to walk long distances in the dark to find a place to use the bathroom.
But efforts have been made in recent years to reduce rates of open defecation to zero.
Sanitation and Health Rights India (SHRI) aims to do just that by providing sanitary bathroom facilities and clean drinking water to rural India through the use of community toilets.
SHRI was co-founded by Anoop Jain — who was the very first winner of the Waislitz Global Citizen Award in 2014 — alongside Prabin Kumar Ghimire and Chandan Kumar.
Many communities in India don’t have accessible toilets and are therefore forced to go outside, often in or near bodies of water.
That is why the founders of SHRI decided to focus on community toilets. Community toilets are a cost-effective fix and depend upon community buy-in, allowing for behaviors to change over time, according to SHRI.
“But building a community toilet is not the only solution, because maintenance plays an equally important role,” Ghimire told the Better India. “And for that, you need money to keep it clean and employ staff."
But they knew they couldn't cover costs by charging for the use of the facilities because then people wouldn’t use them. Instead, the organization has made its community toilets self-sustainable — and turned them into "revenue generators" that cover the community toilets' maintenance costs.
The human waste from the toilets is used to produce methane, which in turn is used to run a power generator. The electricity from that generator, meanwhile, is used to power a water filtration unit that creates pure, drinkable water that can then be stored and sold.
“Now people are so used to our facilities, that they queue up in front of it everyday,” Ghimire said. “I feel so happy to see that the place where people used to defecate, has become a playground for the kids of the community, today."
So far, SHRI has built seven community toilets in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand. The organization even keeps regular track of how many people use its toilets and drink its water on the “results” section of its website.
“Earlier we couldn’t go [to the bathroom] when it used to rain, or at night, but now we can,” one woman told The Better India about the community toilets. “We can go anytime we need to.”
Access to clean drinking water and sanitation has been recognized as a human right by the United Nations. A lack of access to clean water and sanitation is estimated to kill over 842,000 people every year. The implementation of community toilets like these could have a positive impact on these grim statistics.