Odisha, with 83.32 percent of its population residing in rural areas, is one of the least urbanized regions of India (Census 2011). However, in recent times, the state’s urban population growth has accelerated. In fact, the rate of urban population growth during the last decade has been very high at 26.8 percent compared to the growth rate of the rural population at 11.71 percent. Undoubtably, urbanization has brought benefits to many, including expanded job market opportunities and easier access to goods and services to name a few. This growth has also put a severe strain on the infrastructure of many cities and has led to an increase in the number of urban poor – many of whom live in slums and other squatter settlements. Prioritizing provision of essential services to these areas, including improved sanitation, has been a struggle for urban authorities given the competing priorities of maintaining functional cities despite significant population growth.
At the time of the 2011 Census, out of a 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 defecating in the open. More recently, a 2014 PRIA study found that almost 50 percent of the slum population in Bhubaneswar did not have access to toilets and go for 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. Some reasons for this include high population density, poor quality of infrastructure and maintenance, land constraints, poor administration and weak political will, as well as lack of cooperation from local communities. In recent years, sanitation has become a focus point for the Government of India leading to a strong push for construction of toilets and the eradication of open defecation. Though much progress has been made, there are still households who are not being reached by these initiatives, either because they are unable to construct their own individual latrines or are too far from public toilet facilities. Project Sammaan is an effort to reach these households by providing community toilet facilities in their localities.
Given these constraints, shared communal sanitation facilities may be an appropriate solution. However, there are three key challenges to ensuring community toilets sustainably address sanitation needs: designing and building toilets that people are likely to use, implementing management systems that will ensure appropriate services, pricing, and maintenance, and changing sanitation-related behaviors. Project Sammaan is an effort to address these challenges through a multi-pronged strategy in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders.