Due to the lack of availability of toilets in many communities and the dissatisfaction that communities feel towards toilets provided by municipal corporations, SPARC has launched its own community toilet block initiative in partnership with local communities.
SPARC believes that community toilet blocks are the best way to confront the issue of unsatisfactory sanitation conditions in slums. SPARC advocates for community toilets rather than individual toilets because the size of most slum dwellings means that in-house toilets tend to dominate the interior space of the home, leaving less space for living and sleeping. Furthermore, the smell of in-house toilets overwhelms homes and requires constant maintenance and attention. Alternatively, community toilets allow for more space in individual homes and less overall time spent on cleaning and maintenance of the toilet facility.
Toilet block construction projects facilitated by SPARC differ from the toilet blocks built by government municipal corporations in many ways. Whereas municipal corporations will build new toilet blocks without consulting communities, SPARC ‘s toilet blocks utilize community participation at every level—in design, construction, and maintenance. SPARC toilet blocks are always connected to a main sewer line with access to adequate water and electricity even if that means building both overhead and underground tanks, whereas municipality toilet blocks do not always come with legal grid connections and extra capacity. SPARC toilet blocks ensure privacy by including separate entrances and areas for men and women, and a separate squatting area for children. SPARC toilet blocks also always come with a care-taker, appointed from the community who is responsible for the facility. This is an improvement upon the municipal corporation model that does not consider maintenance of the toilet block to be a priority and does not account for maintenance practices in pricing or construction. Last of all SPARC sells monthly subscriptions to the community toilet block where monthly family passes cost Rs. 20-25 irrespective of the number of family members or the number of toilet uses. This system, coupled with an additional income of 1 rupee per use paid by passers-by, ensures that the toilet block remains financially accessible to all families while also funding its own operation.
SPARC sees community toilet blocks not only as a product that has the capacity to improve sanitation in slums, but also as a process in which toilet block design and construction can serve to rally community members to mobilize, organize, collaborate, and negotiate.
SPARC’s model of toilet block construction, subscription, and maintenance seems to deliver the desperately-needed clean and safe waste disposal facilities that families seek, which in turn improves health, productivity, safety and quality of life within urban communities. SPARC has constructed 358 community toilet blocks to date and has also secured contracts to build another 613 toilet blocks moving forward. This means 371450 individuals in 74,290 families currently have access to safe and clean toilet facilities, and the number of people impacted by the projects continues to rise as new contracts are secured. SPARC’s community-built toilets work because they are affordable and well –maintained and because families have a stake in their creation, use, and maintenance.
After a SPARC toilet block was constructed in her community, Sukubai Dengle from Kamgar Putala slum in Pune raved about the many improvements brought about by the new toilet block: “The two-storey toilet block has been built by SPARC and Mahila Milan. There is water in the toilets and no queues. There is no tension. And the toilets are so clean. I have a toilet in my house, but actually I like the new public toilets so much that I prefer to use them. Ever since the new toilets have been built, there is less sickness. The old toilets used to be so dirty that larvae used to come out of the chambers. The filth caused sickness. And children used to defecate in the open drains. Now there is such a good arrangement for children to squat that they go to the toilet happily. The new toilets have made a big difference in my settlement. I feel I live in a good area.”
Community toilet blocks are much more than structures or products; they are catalysts that enable community mobilization, coordination, empowerment, and improvement. Proper sanitation in communities and safe and clean facilities for disposing of human waste have an impact that reaches beyond basic safety and health, instilling in poor communities a sense of ownership, commitment, and pride that will inspire further organization and growth.