Shift in handling community/shared toilets in slums

One of the most common problems that we have encountered in most slums/ informal settlements that, we visited, is the lack of adequate space available. This greatly hinders putting up of new infrastructure such as individual toilets because there is simply not enough room for them.

That has led to the construction of community toilets by the government. Water and electricity is free at these toilets. But the challenge remains in maintenance of the toilets. The foremost cause is that in most community toilets there is a lack of ownership of the toilets where the users are numerous and each think that it is the responsibility of others or even an external party such as the municipal council or toilet operator to keep it clean.

Although, we can agree that the municipal council do have a responsibility for the maintenance of the toilet to some point, it is also ultimately the shared responsibility of those who use the services to ensure that the facility is kept clean because unlike the municipal council, they are the ones who are directly affected by it and use it.

We feel that for overall cleanliness and hygiene of the toilet, the community has to feel responsible for the toilet block and use it well. While going around interviewing people, the common response when our team talked to the community regarding the shared community toilet block is that almost everyone said that they personally kept the toilet clean after use but it was the other community members who made it dirty which begs the question that if everyone keeps it clean then why are the toilets often dirty?

It is a common question of how people perceive and treat a public resource, leading to a tragedy of the commons if you will. So how can you create individual ownership of a shared/ public resource? Education is one of the factors that plays a big role in how people interact with the resource, but is there another way we can instill a sense of ownership and value for the resource?

One of the ideas that we are implementing is to assign one toilet seat to a group of 4-5 families from the available seats , instead of the current situation where 600 families use the entire toilet block. Taking into account that the toilet block is within a community setting and the people who use it are known to both the toilet operator and among themselves, such seats would be shared exclusively by a group as their ‘own’ toilet and thus the community members would be responsible for how it is used. The toilet operator as well as 3S Shramik would still clean the entire block regularly but the main people in charge of keeping it clean would be the users. In such a setting, we are testing the hypothesis ,that because the toilets would be ‘owned’ by specific households who subsequently know who they are sharing with, they would be more willing to keep it clean, because it is exclusively for them.

Also, a sense of peer pressure would set in as no one wants to be identified as the ones who always keeps the toilet dirty. Such information can make the rounds very fast in a community and may lead to public shaming of such people. In this way, we hope that users get used to keeping it clean throughout the day as well as educate on the value and responsibility of having clean toilets.

The idea is also to get them used to cleaner toilets , so they don’t go back to old habits of unhygienic conditions.

This blog is one in a series that documents the journey of Saraplast in setting up an inclusive slum sanitation venture. To read more blogs in this series, click here.

Rajeev Kher
Rajeev Kher
Founder of SHRAMIK 3S -a leading social enterprise working in the Portable Sanitation and waste management space in India to create a sustainable and scalable model for sanitation and liquid waste management in India. Managing Director- SARA...

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