The absence of public toilets can result in social isolation and challenges for livelihood and going to work. Wider consequences are low self-esteem, depression, and loneliness. However, this issue has not been given much priority into action. This year’s UN World Toilet Day has reminded the issues of sanitation with the theme “Valuing Toilets”. Life without a toilet is dirty, dangerous, and undignified. Toilets define public health. It also drives improvements in gender equality, education, economics, and the environment. There will be no sustainable future without toilets.
There is only 1 public toilet for every 46,000 individuals, only a third of the 84 toilets in Kathmandu are in operation and even those are poorly maintained and unhygienic and only 13 percent of users are women. 95 percent of sewage is dumped untreated into the rivers and water bodies perpetuating a vicious cycle of disease and poverty.
Without access to safe toilets and clean water, women often have privacy and safety issues, children are prone to life-threatening waterborne diseases, and millions of girls miss school because menstruation becomes too hard to manage. Unfortunately, this issue remains under focus in the policies and development activities of cities around the world.
Aerosan Nepal is a social enterprise that offers a design-build-operate public toilet management solution through a network of pay-per-use, gender and disabled inclusive, hygienic, and modern facilities (known as Hub) with an integrated waste-to-value solution and an evidence-based cleanliness protocol.
It addresses the critical sanitation problem within Nepal’s urbanized areas and now embeds public toilet facilities within attractive community spaces that have become a focal point for the neighborhood boasting a shop for sanitary supplies, hand sanitizer, masks, potable water, and snacks, a restaurant serving teas and full meals, a shower, and wifi for children’s online school lessons. It has grown to now attract many small vendors selling shoes, clothing, and food items and is an impressive focal point attracting over 800 visitors per day.
Following a survey of existing toilets and interviews with operators and women’s groups, the Hub design was developed in 2017 and piloted at Ratna Park in 2018. Results showed a 46% increase in women users, a 40 % increase in handwashing whilst doubling the number of users, and, at the same time, providing an adequate supply of biogas for the teahouse. These positive results highlight the opportunity to create a public toilet Hub that presents a multitude of benefits for the local community.
It has established strategic partnerships with municipalities, which commit to providing the land and construction of the outer building. We also partner with the Sanitation Workers Co-op, which supplies highly trained operators to the Hubs. Women are at the core of the Hub’s success: gender equality, social inclusion, job creation.
Aerosan’s critical partnership is with the Independent Sanitation Workers Co-operative (ISWC) of Dalit women (formerly known as ‘untouchables’). The women are fully trained to work within the Hubs and take a critical role in all aspects of operational management, being provided with dignified employment from customer service roles through to engagement at the senior management team level.
Aerosan has successfully partnered with Grand Challenges Canada and Stone Family Foundation UK to achieve proof of concept and upscaling to achieve a positive impact on the sanitation crisis in Nepal.
Over the past three years, we have seen a positive change in response to our work in Nepal. This has been driven by the acceptance of the Hub structure and our evidence-based results, which show how this approach can be the catalyst for livelihood improvements far beyond the immediate benefits of improved sanitation. Previously, public toilets were considered dirty, smelly and unattractive task and under-resourced, creating health risks and environmental degradation. The Hubs are seen as a platform for community engagement and economic livelihoods, with a radical reduction of those health and environmental risks. This aligns with municipal commitment to greatly improved sanitation with progress towards the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
By providing excellent services for women users – safe, clean, well-ventilated space with full sanitary and MHM facilities, private baby diaper changing, and breastfeeding space, it showed a 46 percent increase in women users.
Aerosan’s initiatives to establish a women-led sanitation workers cooperative at the Aerosan Hub intervention site were met with great enthusiasm and spurred a grassroots movement from the extensive network of workers in the toilets and sanitation sector across the city. With over 50 members, Aerosan and the ISWG group were able to accomplish several agendas to empower sanitation workers.
Here's the link for the video of smart toilet: