The Joint Monitoring Project, of the WHO and UNICEF, estimated that in 2015, 41 million people living in Indian cities, practiced open defecation. This is 7% of all urban residents in the country and represents 43% of all urban residents in the world engaging in the practice.
These people are typically slum residents, whether they reside in homes or not. There are many cases where no public latrine alternatives exist for these residents - although there are also many cases where latrines exist but they are considered less favorable than defecating, urinating and addressing menstrual hygiene issues in public. Where sanitation is lacking and no public latrine exists, coverage should be expanded; where latrines exist but they are an affront to human dignity, they should be improved.
Privacy, security, cleanliness and dignity are all essential, especially for women, and arguably more so than in sanitation systems with private latrines. While many public latrines have some facilities for washing and bathing, they rarely contain facilities for disposing of menstrual hygiene management products, or for washing menstrual cloths.
In addition, many urban residents, even if they have access in or near their home, may not have access outside of the home in their places of work, at the market, in government offices, hospitals or at school. Meeting the full sanitary service needs of a low-income working population requires at least basic access in all of these locations. Women are especially vulnerable without access at work and may even miss work during menstruation. Very little research has been done on extra-household sanitation access: greater efforts are needed at tracking, designing and financing these types access. Schools are an important arena in particular, because lack of sanitation could lead to lower attendance and graduation rates.
We propose to develop a texting-based & smart phone capable app that would allow people to search for the nearest public restroom, rate the facilities there, and complain if their isn't one nearby, or if the facilities are not properly maintained.
We would focus on girls and women, include schools and make sure that the technology could be used by anyone with a phone; we would ensure that low-income and/or illiterate populations were engaged in particular. Our hope is to i) raise awareness of the issue of extra-household access to sanitation, and ii) have a crowd-sourced map of latrine access, covering both day-use extra-household needs and the needs of residents that use a public latrine as their primary point of access to sanitation. This map would be available to the public via a dedicated website, for use by grass-roots NGOs, but would also be used by our team to make targeted recommendations to policy-makers and possibly assist in the framing and motivating of future policy-oriented research projects.
In addition, the website would also provide an area for information sharing among providers and users, whether they be schools, government offices or the proprietors of stand-alone public latrines. We hope that this will help foster the grass-roots creation of best management practices, idea-sharing, and perhaps also the chance to give praise for those latrine owners that have done exemplary work.
Our app and website would increase visibility, accountability and transparency, but ultimately we want to increase the number, type and frequency of conversations about sanitation. We want to create a new way for people to engage with sanitation issues in their community, across neighborhoods and income levels, in order to talk about how best to create the clean, sanitary city that everyone wants to live in. We will focus on the gaps, but by engaging with people on the ground, and connecting their feedback to the other residents of the city, in real-time and with opportunities for further comments and discussion, we hope to foster a space whereby people stop talking about their sanitation problems and start talking about their sanitation solutions.