Turning Kathmandu into a SafaSahar

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Kathmandu’s tremendous sanitation problem has been no secret or surprise to its residents. Pashupati Pariyar, one of the members of team Safasahar, was inspired by movies like “Toilet, ek prem katha” and “Padman” and wanted to do something about sanitation issues that every single citizen faced every single day. The group Safasahar designed a toilet system with a simple design that could easily be assembled, cheaply constructed, hygienic and if necessary could be dismantled and reconstructed in a new location with ease. Here he tells us more about this project. 

safasahar1. Could you give us a general introduction to Safasahar?
Safasahar is a type of portable toilet system that we had designed to apply for Smart Urban Tech Challenge. The public toilet infrastructure in Nepal is incredibly poor and the road expansion resulted in the demolition of some of the available toilets too. Our toilet systems wouldn’t exactly be mobile, but each component can be easily installed and if certain circumstances require the toilet to be moved or uninstalled it can be done quite easily. Additionally, the same materials can be reused to construct a new one at a different location. These toilets will occupy one anna of space with four cubicles for men and four for women. The materials to be used for these toilets are going to be light, plastic-based materials that make the toilet portable but still durable. These materials are the main factor that makes these toilets so cost-effective compared to the standard brick and concrete structures. The price is reduced by a third and the material is light as well. Each toilet will have its own water supply tank and we might construct wells near a unit depending on the water use demand. We hope to incorporate rainwater harvesting into certain units too. 

But an important feature of this design is that these toilets will be period friendly, unlike most current public toilets. They will contain a bin to safely dispose of used sanitary napkins and dispensers that allow women to purchase more. We also want to have a medical booth where people can buy sanitary napkins and other medical supplies and kits as well. Our main focus is to improve sanitation in Kathmandu Metropolitan City using these toilet systems.

2. What happens to the waste expelled by the toilet?
Sewage treatment systems are quite expensive, but sludge that is collected can be used for producing viable compost and biogas. The plan for now is to have a portable septic tank. However, some of the refuse will be removed through sewage pipes as well. This can be done within Kathmandu and outside of Kathmandu Valley. Within the valley, the sewage can be collected from these systems and be taken to a location where this type of waste is treated. Our toilets will have their own septic tanks but initially, we will have to connect the units to the existing sewage pipes until we find better alternatives. 

3. What phase are you in?
We were the category runner up at the Smart Urban Tech Challenge. What they wanted was something similar to the “E-toilet” which is very popular in India. Before implementing the idea they wanted to see a prototype as well. But that wasn’t economically feasible for us. We have a design ready but again due to our financial constraints, we haven’t been able to produce a prototype which is crucial for this project to move forward. Creating the prototype will give us a much better idea of what the actual cost is, the material quantity and the general feasibility of the toilet. 

4. What are the challenges you are facing?
We have yet to receive a response from the City Planning Commission, which is why we haven’t really been able to move forward. The design is clear and we have a 3D model ready but we need a full-scale model. The complete construction of a single unit which consists of eight toilets comes to 7 lakhs which is a great price for a toilet of that capacity. It is incredibly cheap compared to the standard toilets which would cost about 35 lakhs based on our estimate. If we had received that 7 lakhs from them the toilet would have been ready by now. It is a public toilet so we are reliant on the government for this. It isn’t feasible for private organizations to be involved because we want to build the toilet on public land. So government cooperation is crucial for us. 

5. Do you have a registered organization registered?
We have an IT company registered and we could probably do this project through the same organization. There are 4 people on our team and we’ve been working on this idea for 6 months. We are trying to work with the government to implement this idea. We could talk to other organizations that provide funds and grants for research, but for now we’d like to work with the government first. 

6. Why did you want to start this project?
There are a lot of issues with public toilets. People usually go to places like malls for better toilets. The reason we’re focused on public areas is because Kathmandu’s population is increasing rapidly but it doesn’t even have sanitation facilities for the current population. I visited a lot of the public toilets in the valley to see what their condition was and they were all incredibly dirty. They could be great if they were maintained and kept clean. One of the toilets near Ratna park even has a biogas production unit which is complete but not in use yet. Another issue is that they aren’t period friendly at all. Movies like “Toilet ek prem katha” and “Padman” inspired us to pursue this idea too. 

7. What are your main challenges?
The toughest thing for us has been the lack of a prototype. It’s a huge investment to build the toilet prototype, we need a significant investment then there’s the land acquisition for the toilets as well. We have suppliers ready in China and Butuwal who have been expecting to hear from us for a long time now. It feels as though we’ve lied to them about wanting to make a purchase. We’re using durable but different materials which are the key factors that make the toilet affordable. 

8. How has your experience with this project been?
It has been great. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet with a lot of experienced mentors who helped us out a lot. Initially, we thought we were working very hard and the first time we presented our ideas we were told it wasn’t even close to the level we had to reach. Instead of taking that negatively we really buckled down, kept working and saw our project improve. That became, and still is, a continuous cycle for us. We’ve learned to take constructive criticism from experienced mentors and improve our work and ideas. It was very rewarding to be the runner up in the end. 

For more information about Safasahar, please email Samir Maharjan at uniquesamir2015@gmail.com

Interviewed and Article by Jyotika Shah