Celebrating ‘World Toilet Day’ through research

Fri 18 November, 2022
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Ahead of World Toilet Day (19th November), a Research Fellow from the University of Bedfordshire has penned an inspiring blog about the importance of human sanitation as part of her work with the ‘Towards Brown Gold’ project.

Funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Global Challenge Research Fund, ‘Towards Brown Gold’ is a collaborative research project with the University of Brighton that was kick-started by Professor Andrew Church – Pro Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation at Bedfordshire.

The project focuses on sanitation in rural Nepal and Dr Hannah Macpherson, Research Fellow, has written a blog for Medium around the topic for World Toilet Day...

Making the invisible visible in the sanitation chain

There has been great success in building toilets across the Global South. But the workforce and invisible infrastructures required to deliver safe sanitation for all receives much less attention, and sanitation workers still suffer severe discrimination.

As part of the interdisciplinary research and arts element of the ‘Towards Brown Gold’ project, we highlight these issues, known as second-generation sanitation challenges. We have built a sanitation education and lobbying facility at Lumbini Peace Park Nepal and are engaging with sanitation workers and community members to push for rights to clean water and to raise awareness of the potential for human waste re-use. We also developed a performance with Sanitation workers at the Women of the World Festival this year at Lumbini Peace Park to increase the visibility of sanitation workers at this site.

In this blog, we show the importance of some of these activities in highlighting the often invisible aspects of sanitation on World Toilet Day.

Opening our mud houses

This month we were delighted to officially open our mud houses sanitation facility at Lumbini Peace Park, located near the World Peace Pagoda. The mud houses have been designed and built with local people and materials (bamboo, thatch, cow dung, and mud) and conceived by inclusive artist Alice Fox. The outside of the houses use a traditional method of relief decoration to highlight contemporary issues of sanitation.

This includes pictures of the process of proper faecal sludge management, the importance of water-sealed ‘three-ring’ toilet pits, and the problems that result if non-sealed pit toilet faeces mix with drinking water. We have been delighted to welcome a diversity of visitors to the facility, which now has a permanent member of staff, Mr Om Prakash Baniya, who has prior experience as a WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilitator.

So far, our visitors have included women’s groups from the Madhesi community, school children, sanitation workers and international visitors from the peace park. Inside the mud houses, we illustrate our sanitation research findings on banners. Our ambition is that visitors act on their learning at the facility both at home and collectively in calling for better sanitation.

The importance of ‘brown gold’

Human excreta, which is considered by people to be a problem, can be used as nutrients and organic compounds for processing or biogas, establishing it as ‘brown gold’. Inside the mud houses research findings from our Towards Brown Gold project illustrate the importance of three-ring toilet pits (stopping them from leaking into the water table), safe pit emptying and the value of human waste re-use as ‘brown gold’.

Our planned programme will be running from October 2022 to March 2023. It will include working with children to pot plants in humanure to take home and share the message of the importance of co-composting (human waste re-use) and group competitions to design a sustainable sanitation chain. We will also be facilitating a workshop that brings together stakeholders including municipal officials, Lumbini development trust, WaterAid and the Federation of Water Supply and Sanitation with community members and sanitation workers to highlight the importance of sanitation workers’ rights, the potential for human waste re-use in the development of safe sustainable sanitation systems (not just toilets), and the need for a sewage treatment plant at the Lumbini Peace Park.

Making the invisible visible

It is crucial on World Toilet Day and indeed every day that we focus on, invest in and maintain the infrastructure that supports good sanitation, not just toilets. Recent research from the Towards Brown Gold project in Gulariya, Nepal, found that toilet pits built in communities have started to fill up and overflow during the monsoon. When they are emptied, it is by workers and family members who have little to no protection, and often the faecal sludge is just dumped into nearby rivers or forests rather than taken and disposed of correctly by the municipality or safely used on farmland. This means the risk of water-borne diseases is extremely high.

Policy makers and researchers need to address the invisible elements of the sanitation chain and focus on second-generation sanitation issues. This includes the provision of safe treatment for faecal sludge and developing the potential for ‘brown-gold’. If we make existing sanitation chains visible, including sanitation workers and individuals who are marginalised and are exposed to faecal pathogens, the need for enhancing sanitation systems becomes clear. Our project ‘Towards Brown-Gold’ starts this process. However, it is up to institutions and policy makers to take the next steps to ensure the safe, sustainable treatment of faecal sludge.

 

Read the full blog post, featuring further information and project photographs, via Medium.

For more information about the variety of research conducted by the University of Bedfordshire, visit: www.beds.ac.uk/research

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