Here on Treehugger there is no shortage on the scoop on alternative toilets for those among us who desire better poopers - nevertheless, not everyone is fortunate enough to have the luxury of choice. Right at this moment, the India Habitat Centre of New Delhi is playing host to the 7th World Toilet Summit from October 31 to November 3, with delegates from over 44 nations this year discussing how to provide affordable, environmentally friendly and basic access to sanitation for the estimated 2.5 billion people in the world who do not have access to a toilet, a number that the U.N. Millennium Development Goals hopes to cut in half by 2015.
With exhibits from abroad and locally, many manufacturers' products ranged from the colourful to the technologically imaginative. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of the NGO Sulabh International — which has already provided 6,500 simple composting public toilets in India that converts waste into water, fertilizer and biogas — said that it is not a matter of technology only, but also of execution and government policy."To achieve the goals, what is essential is that technology needs to be urgently developed that is suitable and simple of implementation. Sewers or septic tanks are not the solutions. Doctors around the world now say that better sanitation and public hygiene are key for improving public health," says Pathak.
He also noted that sanitation technology should also adapt to regional needs, saying, "The technology best-suited to India is making manure out of human excreta. The waste is not flushed but stored till it turns into manure. Today, only 232 out of over 5000 towns have a sewage system in the country. So only government can adopt the right technology at the right scale if it acts."
In India alone, there are 700 million citizens without access to safe and clean toilets, while an estimated half a million of low-caste untouchables, or Dalits, scrape a living out of collecting and disposing of so-called "night soil" out of 10 million toilets daily. About 80% of these are women and they are forced to persist despite discrimination and a rarely-enforced law from 1993 forbidding this kind of scavenging.
National organizations such as Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) are working to eliminate manual scavenging in India by 2010 through rehabilitating and training scavengers for better work.
"This is an issue of dignity. But working in such nasty conditions, scavengers are also suffering from health problems," says Bezwada Wilson of SKA. "Because of the practice of the caste system in India, people have been forced to do such menial jobs. Focus should now be given on how to liberate scavengers from this."
Sharadah, a scavenger from a village just outside Delhi said, "I've grown old doing this dirty work. For the past 20 years I've been cleaning toilets because this is the only way I can feed my children. Everyone considers us dirty and stays away from us. If I was able to find another job, why would I do this?"
Image: "Progress has been made. WaterAid and other NGOs have developed methods to ensure more and more rural people are gaining access to safe, sustainable and affordable latrines." BBC, India's Sanitation Struggles