Asia-Africa Online Consultation on Faecal Sludge Treatment in Rural Areas - CSE showcases examples from India of urban-rural convergence in treatment of faecal sludge

Odisha and Chhattisgarh in India offer successful models where sludge from a cluster of villages is being treated at urban treatment plants; Bangladesh has also made progress in this direction

Find the details of the Consultation click here

New Delhi, February 1, 2022:A 2021 Joint Monitoring Progress Report of the UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) says around 50 per cent of the world’s rural areas are not managing their faecal sludge safely. Most rural regions do not have adequate onsite treatment facilities for the sludge – so what happens to the sludge which cannot be treated onsite due to lack of technically sound treatment systems? In most cases, the untreated sludge is dumped into waterbodies or open areas, contaminating the land as well as water sources, and severely endangering public health and lives.

An Asia-Africa Consultation on treatment of faecal sludge from rural areas – organised by the New Delhi (India)-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) –has introduced some sustainable case studies from India, which, if accepted, could be replicated in other parts of the developing world. Experts from Bangladesh, Uganda and India participated in the Consultation.

Speaking at the Consultation, SushmitaSengupta, senior programme manager of the Rural Water and Sanitation programme in CSE, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the significance of clean water and safe sanitation – regular washing of hands is one of the key recommendations for keeping the virus at bay. This makes a case for protecting our water sources, especially in rural regions where the majority of our populations live. Without effective and sustainable treatment systems and technologies for faecal sludge, these regions and their people will remain at the mercy of disease and death.”

CSE researchers who have closely studied how rural areas are dealing with faecal sludge, point out that the most widely recommended onsite treatment system for villages across Asia and Africa is the twin-pit with honeycomb structure, but it is not as widely implemented as is to be expected. In many villages, single deep pits or faulty septic tanks (holding tanks) have been made; in quite a few, the ‘treatment plant’ is just a hole in the ground!

Says Sengupta: “CSE researchers surveyed and gathered information on existing systems and practices across India and other regions – we have found that a cluster system of treatment, where rural sludge from a cluster of villages is transported to and treated in the nearest urban treatment plants, seems to be an economical and sustainable system. We have found such models in two states: Odisha and Chhattisgarh.”

“However,” adds Sengupta, “we need to explore more such sustainable models for those villages that are located in remote regions, far off from urban centres.”

The Indian models – Odisha and Chhattisgarh

According to India’s flagship programme Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) – Clean India Mission (Rural) – over 160 million household toilets have been built in the country’s rural areas. These toilets are said to be generating an estimated 0.06 million tonne of faecal matter every day.

Asks Swati Bhatia, programme officer, Rural Water and Sanitation, CSE: “The question that arises is whether all these toilets can tackle this huge amount of faecal sludge that is produced. The toilets that are built should be technically sound to be able to do so – but our ground studies tell us that they are not. The Department of Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation says that if onsite treatment of faecal sludge is not happening or is being done partially, there is a need for treating the faecal sludge at a treatment plant – offsite -- before further disposal. The question we are trying to answer here is, what can be the best institutional model for treating the sludge offsite?”

In Odisha, the state government took a significant step to find a solution in 2020, by issuing a guideline to districts to link gram panchayats (village-level administrative bodies) within a 20-kilometer radius to urban local bodies (ULBs), so that faecal sludge from these villages can be carried to the faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs) of the ULBs.

Says Bhatia: “This will help in maximum utilisation of the FSTPs in the ULBs – many treatment plants have to operate below their capacity because they do not get enough sludge to treat.”

This rural-urban convergence model is working successfully in the districts of Dhenkanal and Balasore in Odisha. In Dhenkanal, 49 panchayats have been linked to the ULB’s treatment plant; in Balasore, the number is 90.

Speaking at the CSE Consultation, Parameswaran B, director-cum-joint secretary, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Department, government of Odisha, said: “We took a conscious decision on this convergence. Odisha is a leader in India in constructing and operating FSTPs in urban areas, and we have recognised this rural-urban convergence model as viable for the state. After the successful pilot in Balasore, we are planning to implement this model in all areas where FSTPs are functional.”

Chhattisgarh’s Durg district has adapted the model as well – one FSTP of the ULB has been linked to seven gram panchayats. Another state which is moving ahead on the issue is Karnataka. It is the first state in the country to have instituted a solid-liquid waste management by-law for rural areas, and is exploring rural-urban convergence as a viable model in the state.

The scenario in Bangladesh and Uganda

Abdullah Al-Muyeed, chief operating officer, CWIS-FSM Support Cell, Department of Public Health Engineering in Bangladesh – another speaker at the Consultation – spoke about what his country is planning: “Keeping in mind the limited land that Bangladesh has, the country has decided to opt for integrated waste management for its rural areas – which will look at treating both solid waste and faecal sludge, using the rural-urban convergence model. Over 150 FSTPs are being planned by the government.”

From Africa, Uganda was represented at the Consultation by Engineer OlwemyLamu, assistant commissioner, planning and development, Rural Water and Sanitation Department, Ministry of Water and Environment. Addressing the Consultation, Lamu said: “Uganda currently has the capacity to treat only 3 per cent of the faecal sludge generated in its rural areas. Besides this low installed capacity, the country faces challenges such as under-utilised or overloaded treatment facilities, resulting in untreated or partially treated sludge being emptied into the environment; and poor infrastructure and inadequate services for storage, collection and transportation of the sludge, among other things.”

According to Lamu, Uganda has initiated some measures such as promotion of better toilet technologies among households, promulgation of guidelines for construction of only emptiable sanitation facilities in schools, and construction of faecal sludge management facilities in cluster towns and places with concentrated populations (such as Rural Growth Centres or refugee settlements).

Closing the discussions at the event, SushmitaSengupta from CSE said: “CSE has some clear recommendations on the issue. Solutions should be devised on a case-to-case basis, and states (in the case of India) should decide what works for them – but convergence needs to be prioritised. It will be important to examine the experience in urban areas for developing better solutions for rural ones. Creating area-specific cost-sharing models would be a sustainable way ahead. Also, there is a need to develop a market for sanitation services in our rural areas, for which, awareness generation will be critical.”

For more details, please contact

Sukanya Nair
of The CSE Media Resource Centre
Mobile: 8816818864


Webinar recording
Faecal Sludge Management in Rural Areas
The Uganda Context

By: Eng. Olweny Lamu
Urban- Rural Convergence- CSE’s findings
A turtle’s journey towards 2030 Targets
By: Dr Abdullah Al-Muyeed
Panelists and Speakers
Chief Operating Officer
CWIS-FSM Support cell, Department of Public Health Engineering
Secretary, Drinking Water and Sanitation, Panchayati Raj & Drinking Water Department, Odisha, India
Assistant Commissioner,
Planning and Development,
Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Department,
Ministry of Water & Environment, Uganda
Senior Programme Manager
Centre for Science and Environment
Programme Officer
Rural Water and Sanitation,
Centre for Science and Environment, India