The newly-introduced ECOSAN toilets in the remote islands of Sundarbans are not only providing a hygienic sanitary option to villagers, most of whom used to defecate in the open, but are also converting excreta into organic manures.
With technical and financial support from NGOs, Alpona Gayen of Durbachoti Gram Panchayat in Patharpratima block motivated women folk in her village to install these innovative toilets.
"Most of them were used to defecate in the open but once they realised that it will not be healthier but also accelerate the growth of crops they were willing to change their daily habits," says Gayen.
These toilets comprise closed enclosure on a raised platform above two chambers, one in use and one composting that stores excreta.
"It takes roughly five months for pathogen free compost to be produced. To help prevent offensive smell in the toilet, urine diversion is introduced whereby feces and urine are not allowed to mix, as a chemical reaction between the two creates odour," says sanitation expert Jyotirmoy Chakraborty.
The diverted urine is taken to a separate chamber that is used to nourish soils for crop growth while the excreta is used similarly as an organic manure later on after it gets decomposed automatically.
The idea of these ECOSAN toilets was initiated by international NGO Save the Children and implemented by the Sundarban Social Development Centre.
Housewife Tukumani Sahu says she is happy that the productivity of crops in her kitchen garden would increase with the new toilets.
Moreover, only about a litre of water is needed for ablution in ECOSAN compost toilet as against 4 to 5 litres in the conventional toilets.
Farmers recall how after the 2009 Aila cyclone the traditional toilets were rendered dysfunctional as the entire village went under water.
"There was a massive outbreak of water-borne diseases during that time. Water was contaminated due to these pit toilets," says Prof Barun Kanjilal of Indian Institute of Health Management Research.
Even now most of the villagers either defecate in the open or use leech pit toilets.
Dr Samiran Panda of the city-based National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases warns that in the Sundarbans where floods are common, both options are risky.
Open defecation provides breeding ground for parasites and transmission of various vector-borne diseases while pit toilets gets submerged during floods leading to water contamination.
Diseases such as diarrhea, kala-azar, typhoid, etc, are common here as a result.
According to India Human Development Report 2011, brought out by Institute of Applied Manpower Research of the Planning Commission, about half of Indian households lack access to sanitation facilities resulting in outbreak of diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid.