Harnessing the private sector in drive to eliminate open defecation

Illustration shows a cesspool vehicle, FFSM infrastructure and personal protective equipment

The Indian state of Odisha is on the frontline of the country’s efforts to eliminate open defecation by building a more comprehensive sanitation system.

A 2011 census report benchmarked Indian states based on available water and sanitation facilities and found almost 31 percent of Odisha’s population practised open defecation - defecating in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water or other open spaces, because of the lack of safely managed sanitation. 

The finding prompted various sanitation programs, which led to more toilets. Initiatives included the Swachh Bharat Mission, or "Clean India Mission," a national government campaign that begun in 2014 to eliminate open defecation and improve solid waste management. 

But experts say that efforts have not focussed enough on safe, sustainable management or disposal of faecal sludge - the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks, which leads to open dumping of untreated sludge and septage in the environment. 

Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) has become a priority for state intervention, working with civil society organisations and the private sector. Through the Water for Women supported WaSH Hub project, partners approached the Government of Odisha FSSM Technical Support Unit (TSU) to identify opportunities for sector collaboration. 

Discussions identified three key areas, including:

• Procurement of cesspool vehicles, with private company operation and maintenance 

• Construction, operation and maintenance of sewage treatment plants, and

• Provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for sanitation workers.

The Hub operates under a public-private engagement model, working with demand and supply-side stakeholders and market influencers to reduce market shortcomings, such as reducing information asymmetry, demand-supply imbalance, and transaction costs. 

Government and private sector representatives came together in July 2020 to participate in workshops facilitated by Research Triangle International (RTI India), which highlighted FSSM business opportunities. Participants brainstormed challenges and solutions to sub-themes that emerged.

This collaboration resulted in approximately AUD10.65 million worth of tenders for 19 septage treatment facilities and nine cesspool vehicles, potentially benefitting more than 700,000 residents of the state of Odisha.

Water for Women partners with RTI India and the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) in reaching some of India’s most at risk people with transformative WASH intervention programs.

Water for Women is the Australian government's flagship WASH program and is being delivered as part of Australia's aid program over five years, from 2018 to 2022. Through Water for Women, Australia is investing AUD118.9m to deliver 33 water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects and research initiatives, which aim to directly benefit 2.9 million people in 15 countries across South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific.


Image: RTI International


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