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| Last Updated:24/05/2014

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From open defecation to toilets that produce biogas and fertiliser

theguardian, 14 May 2014


New innnovations in compost toilets aim to make a dent in sanitation and energy problems in the developing world


A Sulabh toilet complex in Kabul, Afghanistan, which produces biogas that can be used for lighting, cooking and generating electricity. Photograph: Sulabh

The Hindu temples of Pashupatinath and Guheshwori in Kathmandu attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Many come to the sacred sites in search of spiritual succour. Others are simply on the tourist trail. Whatever brings them, all have one thing in common: at some stage, they will probably want to use the toilet.


Current options are basic at best. A new initiative by Sulabh International is set to change that. In partnership with a local charity, the India-based social enterprise plans to construct extensive toilet facilities at both sites.


In the two decades after 1990, around 240,000 people a day gained access to improved sanitation, according to the United Nations. Sulabh (meaning "accessible" in Hindi) is one of those at the forefront of this effort. Over the past 44 years, it has built over 1.3m household toilets. Its design for a low-cost, eco compost toilet has inspired 54m others, paid for by the Indian government.


Bindeshwar Pathak, a 71-year-old Gandhian-inspired social reformer, founded Sulabh in an attempt to tackle the social stigma around the handling of human waste – referred to as "scavenging" in India. The organisation now operates in 1,599 towns across the country and boast annual revenues of around $60m (£36m).


"Much still needs to be done," says Pathak, referring to the developing world as a whole, where an estimated 2.5bn people still lack decent sanitation facilities. In India, almost half (49.8%) of the country's 247m households lack access to a toilet, according to the 2011 national census. The consequent practice of open defecation is linked to outbreaks of diarrhoea, dysentery and other serious bacterial infections.


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