At pointReturn, sanitation first began as a ‘problem’. Starting as I did with a deserted land with no facilities, I wondered how and where I would defecate were I to camp overnight. My quandary was an outcome of the distance I had travelled away from the majority of rural Indian folk. To them squatting out in the fields was the most natural thing to do; my mind suggested that was a wrong practice to get used to. Occasionally yes, but that cannot be a solution. My flood-flushing toilet personality of several decades brought up keywords like dirt, unclean, disease, ugly, yuck and so on when I pondered different methods of defecation.
A designer constantly looks to extract merit from a problem. So I cast about for a solution that seemed right by me and nature. I picked the two-pit, pour flush privy. It used little water, converted human waste into compost and required no maintenance. Then after a whole year, during which I observed the flow and stand of rain water in the land near the toilet pits, I began to worry a bit: how safe is my two-pit system from mixing with ground water? Flush water is too little to create a leachate, but what of reverse flow of ground water into the toilet pit. Increasing rain water harvesting activity must surely raise the ground water level? Success in water harvesting might be jeopardizing water safety; such are the contradictions one must constantly address. It was re-design time again and in my book that always translates into converting a problem into an advantage.
It was then that I received an email from Sriram suggesting the ecosan system.Ecosan is short for ecologically sound sanitation. Its principles are several: human feces and urine are valuable resources; they ought to be separated and put to use in agriculture; water use should be eliminated except for washing up oneself. This sort of thinking to me is true ‘modernity’. A modern mind investigates a practice, picks the best from it and designs out the worst. The ecosan movement seems to be doing this with sanitation.I remember reading some decades ago, Han Suyin writing how public toilets in old China were auctioned annually; the winner would be carting away the material to his fields. Alas, China, that once innovative nation, now thinks ‘modernity’ requires flood flush toilets and miles of sewage lines.