Increasing knowledge of the twin pit toilet system

01 November 2018

In 2017-2018, we co-convened and facilitated three regional Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G) Rapid Action Learning (RAL) workshops with WSSCC and government officials, in the Moradabad, Varanasi and Jharkhand Divisions.

These workshops aimed to react to the challenges of SBM-G by facilitating horizontal knowledge sharing between participants from various levels of society, encouraging immediate actions to be taken.

The intended impact of the RAL workshops is to facilitate the exchange of successful innovations and practices of what works and what does not.

Once shared, adapted for local needs and conditions and adopted, the insights can contribute to speed, quality and sustainability of behaviour change, construction, and other aspects of the SBM-G initiative.

We conducted in-depth interviews with a total of 61 participants to draw out changes caused by the workshops, and the key topic of twin pit toilets emerged.

Improved knowledge of twin pit toilets

A twin pit toilet or latrine is a toilet with two belowground containment chambers. The advantage of the twin pit model over a single pit is that once a pit is full of faecal matter it can be left to decompose while the second pit is used. The decomposed faeces from the first pit can then be cleared out in a less hazardous manner.

For a family of six, it is estimated that a standard twin pit will take roughly five years to fill up with faecal matter. The matter decomposes over six months to a year, then is safe to use as compost.

Participants of the Moradabad and Varanasi workshops cited the twin pit toilet system as the area where their knowledge and sanitation practice had improved the most.

Out of 24 interviews conducted in Moradabad and Varanasi (including focus group discussions) 13 included positive references to increased knowledge of the twin pit toilet system as a result of the workshops.

“The field visit was useful as we observed Robert interacting with a household that were using the twin pit toilet and whose pit was opened up to show the participants that the contents had turned into fertilizer. This helped us gain the confidence to talk to households in our own areas to eliminate some of the myths surrounding these toilets and help ensure the success of SBM G in our district.”
Village Secretary from Moradabad Division

“There are a lot of myths around the twin pit toilets, this pervades across every level- the effort by Robert to reduce these inhibitions by providing everyone an opportunity to touch and smell the decomposed fertilizer was very useful to convince and mitigate these concerns around the twin pit toilets. I also learnt that septic tanks are not safe toilets and can contaminate the ground water.”
District Coordinator from Varanasi Division

The workshops in Moradabad and Varanasi divisions included field visits to multiple villages for participants to learn first-hand about sanitation systems and behaviour change approaches used at Gram Panchayat (GP) level.

Several participants explained that prior to the workshop the myths surrounding twin pit toilets, such as that they fill up very quickly and contaminate ground water, caused them to doubt the benefit of the system.

However, many participants claimed the workshops dispelled those myths, improved their knowledge of the system and increased their confidence to promote the use of twin pit toilets at panchayat level.

Putting twin pit toilet knowledge into action

The second change that the participant interviews provide evidence of the workshop’s contribution to is the proliferation of twin pit toilet initiatives at the panchayat level.

Five participants indicated in interviews that they had begun implementing strategies for encouraging the construction and use of twin pit toilets that they had learned from participants representing other districts.

For example, during the Moradabad workshop participants from Bijnor District (which has been declared ODF), shared an approach whereby they trained ‘master masons’ how to build twin pit toilets in order to increase the quality and speed with which twin pit toilets are built in their community.

Two participants from Rampur District, at the village and block level, gave accounts of how their district had adopted the master training for masons on building twin pit toilets since the workshop.

“Bijnor district had shared about the training of “master masons” on the twin pit toilet design. This was adopted by Rampur district where the masons where given a training on the same twin pit toilet design so that the strength of masons increased, which led to the increase in number of twin pit toilets. Masons used to confuse households that the twin pit toilets would not sustain and would collapse easily, but after their training, they began to understand that twin pit toilets when constructed properly will sustain itself much better than septic tanks which are much more expensive. In less time, we were able to construct better toilets and the cost was also not driven up.”
Village secretary from Rampur District

Attempts to replicate the ‘beneficiary contribution approach’

A household is entitled to an incentive of Rs. 12000 for the cost of the construction of a toilet on their property. In this approach, a household is only paid half of that and the household contributes Rs. 6,000 from their own income. The remaining Rs. 6,000 of the incentive amount then contributes towards the construction of communal toilets in the village.

The ‘beneficiary contribution approach’ aims to encourage individual households to take ownership and better maintain their toilets by contributing financially to their construction, as well as taking some responsibility in the commmunity

During the Varanasi workshop, participants from Narayanpur Block, Mirzapur District, shared how they had implemented the beneficiary contribution approach successfully. In a focus group discussion ten months after the workshop, participants from Chandauli District explained how they had also made efforts to implement the approach in their district after including the beneficiary contribution approach in their workshop action plan.

A District Coordinator from Chandauli stated that “Mirzapur’s experience was very useful, both in terms of using the incentive for more households with beneficiary contribution and the use of competition to encourage awareness around sanitation.”

However, the Chandauli example is also an example of a blockage to change. The participants went on to explain that despite their efforts, the beneficiary contribution approach was unsuccessful because they could not generate the necessary level of community buy-in. “We were not able to encourage community contribution as learnt in Mirzapur because the community was very keen to receive the entire incentive of Rs. 12000 per household.”

A second reported blockage to change was the absence of some households from the SBM-G baseline survey, resulting in those households being ineligible for the financial incentive to support the construction of toilets.

The participants’ insights provide evidence that the rapid action learning workshop approach can be effective at enabling participants to learn and implement new sanitation practices utilised successfully elsewhere. However, the beneficiary contribution approach example also demonstrates that practices are not always easily translated into different contexts.