Odisha, with 83.32 percent of its population residing in rural areas (Census 2011), is one of the least urbanised regions of India. However, in recent times, the state’s urban population growth is catching up fast. In fact, the rate of urban population growth during the last decade has been very high at 26.8 percent as against that of the rural population, which was 11.71 percent. This urban growth, in conjunction with industrialisation and lack of infrastructural and employment opportunities in rural areas, has led to mass rural-urban migration straining urban infrastructure and leading to rapid increase in the number of urban poor, many of whom live in slums and other squatter settlements. All this continues to put additional pressure on already strained urban infrastructure, especially sanitation.

As per Census 2011, out of total 96.6 lakh households in the state, 78 percent of households did not have any latrine within their premises, while 76.6 percent of households were still in the habit of open defecation. It further found that about 1.7 lakh households (48.33%) or 8.5 lakh people of the slums defecated in the open [1]. A 2014 PRIA research found that almost 50 percent of the slum population in Bhubaneswar did not have access to toilets or resorted to open defecation.

The problem of public sanitation in slums of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack is critical and complex, as the development of essential amenities for slum dwellers has not been able to match the fast growth of urban slums in these twin cities. This is due to high population density, poor quality of infrastructure & its management, limited space, and lack of clarity on tenure, poor local administration and political will, unwilling and unsupportive local heterogeneous communities, etc.

Given these constraints, shared communal sanitation facilities may be an appropriate solution. However, there are two key challenges to ensuring such facilities effectively address sanitation needs: to design and build toilets that people are likely to use (the “Hardware”) and to design institutions and business models that will ensure appropriate services, pricing, and maintenance required for sustained use (the “Software”).

Decades of development initiatives by governments and non-profit organisations have not produced lasting solutions. Eradication of these complex sanitation issues in urban slums calls for a multi-pronged strategy to be taken by the government and other stakeholders in a synergetic manner.

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