Technology options for urban sanitation in India - A guide to decision making by WSP and MoUD (2008)

Choosing the right sanitation technologies with informed choices; this guide enables the municipalities and urban local bodies to make the most suitable choices.

This guide by the Water and Sanitation Program and the Ministry of Urban Development, is meant to enable municipalities and urban local bodies make informed decisions on sanitation technologies.

Poor sanitation facilities and the lack of sanitation facilities are a health hazard and exact a human toll on human health. Realising the magnitude of the problem and the resulting fallout, the Government of India has been increasing the funding for sanitation infrastructure via the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). However, money alone cannot solve the problem. Urban local bodies and municipalities need sound advice on technological options, planning and implementation to ensure that the money is well spent and the sanitation projects cater to the need of the target audience.

Realising this information gap, the WSP and MoUD brought out this guide to provide advice on selection of technology options for urban sanitation. The guide caters to both the technical expert and the technologically challenged. The guide comprises of four parts.

The first section provides a context to the sanitation challenges and the various technological options that can solve them. The second section of the guide is meant for the non-technical reader as it provides an introduction to sanitation technologies. The third section provides a systematised way to choose a technological option. The final section provides details of various sanitation technologies, methods to facilitate community consultation and decision making.

The guide goes beyond technology to include discussions on socio-economic factors, institutional factors etc that impact sanitation and the technological options to manage it.

Part A: Setting the scene

The chapter is broken down into four sections namely:

  • Defining Sanitation, Urban Sanitation: What are the Challenges?,
  • Technology and Program Design,
  • Legislation and
  • Standards for Urban Sanitation.

Defining sanitation provides a context to the problem. For the purpose of the guide the definition is limited to the safe management and disposal of human excreta. Within this framework four key challenges are identified, these are low infrastructure;  service coverage;  low service usage; and weak institutional arrangements.

While elaborating on these, important observations are made such as the fact that lower income groups do not invest is toilet facilities at home, because of insecurity of land tenure besides other reasons of space constraints and affordability. Reasons for people avoiding use of facilities even when present is also explained - the reasons range from them being inconvenient, to improper maintenance and operation. The role of weak institutional arrangements in low use of sanitation facilities is also delved into.

The guide looks at technology options and program design through the lens of demand. In other words there is need to lead the target community through a process that identifies their choice so that the technology option is most suited to their needs.

The chapter provides examples of communities that have gone through the process and set up sanitation facilities that cater to their needs. The guide notes that even though there may not be municipal laws in certain areas that can be used to provide sanitation, there are constitutional amendments that authorise the Urban Local Bodies to provide sanitation facilities. For example the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 has a list of critical issues for the urban local bodies which include conservancy and sanitation. There is also the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 and technical norms for best practices.

Part B: Introduction to sanitation technologies

The chapter begins with explaining the distinction between wet and dry technologies for sanitation. Technologies that use water to flush feaces come under the bracket of wet technologies; such toilets are connected to septic tanks sewers etc. Dry toilets are of traditional types like traditional pit latrines, ventilated improved pits, as well as more modern types that promote the safe reuse of excreta.

Other classifications like on-site and off-site systems for sanitation are also explained. As per the guide, off-site technologies remove feaces from the vicinity of the toilet. The components of a these systems and the permutations and combinations that can be created, are also explained.

Treatment options for feacal sludge are also discussed in this chapter; a table provides the type of process its mode of operation and the residual matter from this process. Processes like physical screening, biochemical processes like aerobic and anaerobic digestion find mention here. Importantly the chapter suggests the kind of technology most suitable for different types of habitation and the problems that can be faced are also highlighted.

Part C: Framework for decision making

This forms the most important part of the guide as it provides a logical process for technology selection and the service delivery options based on local conditions. The guide states that there are five stages to making a decision about sanitation.

This begins with a survey of settlements and services, the next is a consultation that includes needs assessment, this stage results in the identification of technologies around which costs can be developed, and finally the community reaches a consensus on the option.

The guide explains each stage thoroughly pointing out what kind of information needs to be gathered. Things like, space, water availability, type of housing are key in this stage. The use of informal interviews, transect walks to get local perspective and to analyze the causes of problems are also suggested in these stages. The guide also suggests methods to organise consultation which include interviews, questionnaires etc for this particular stage.

Identifying appropriate technologies, which forms the third stage enables the elimination of technologies depending on their technical viability. Questions such as whether wastewater can be disposed on site, how does the demand for reuse influence the choice of technology, etc help streamline choices.

Also the relationship between water use and disposal option needs to be looked as this would decide the quantity of black water generated the guide explains. Other issues that affect choice of technology include soil type, topography, waste water characteristics, level of treatment of wastewater required etc. The costs are broken down into capital costs and operational and maintenance costs. The guide explains that these are influenced by sources of funding and revenue potential besides other influences.

The fifth stage which is reaching a consensus on the sanitation technology is the final stage in choosing a technology for sanitation. The outcomes from the first four stages are presented to the community and explaninations given whereever necessary. The guide states that this last stage is infact a continuation of Stage 2 and once again needs good facilitation as public meetings amongst stakeholder would need to be held.

The guide states that the outcome of this stage is the community having sufficient clarity and consensus on the preferred option which can enable the municipality to design an implementation process that addresses their  needs successfully.

Part D: Toolkit

The final part of the guide is a tool kit which provides basic technical information on various sanitation technologies, a list of tools for participatory communication,  points to be looked at when determining costs of technological options and institutional options for operation and maintenance of these sanitation facilities. This kit provides more meat in a guide that is full of valuable information.

Download the guide here:


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