Photo credit: SquatEase

Designing an accessible, affordable and comfortable toilet to help end open defecation

“Sanitation, more than many other human rights, evokes the concept of human dignity…Consider the vulnerability and shame that so many people experience every day when, again, they are forced to defecate in the open, in a bucket or in a plastic bag.” – Catalina Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), 2014

More than a billion people around the world defecate in the open because they don’t have access to or can’t afford to build a toilet. Open defecation, and the lack of sanitation and hygiene in general, is one of the world’s greatest health risks. It rapidly spreads disease at a huge cost in terms of health, education and employment.

According to UNICEF, fecal contamination and poor sanitation is a leading cause of child mortality, disease, under nutrition and stunting. Open defecation also exposes women and girls to the danger of physical attacks and rape, as they often wait for the cover of dark to relieve themselves.

India has been battling a lack of sanitation for decades. In 2014, when fewer than four in ten rural households owned a toilet, the country began a massive Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign to give every Indian citizen access to clean toilets and eliminate open defecation for good.

The results were impressive, with 110 million household and public toilets built between 2014 and 2019 — translating to over seven in ten households with access.

Photo credit — Left: UNICEF India / Right: CDC Foundation

The Clean India campaign initially focused on the construction and use of toilets, but shifted towards encouraging people to use them, particularly in rural areas where people often believe it is cleaner to defecate outside than to have a toilet inside the home. Many people also don’t use their toilets because squatting can be very difficult and uncomfortable, particularly for the elderly.

Concerned about the state of sanitation in his country, Satyajit Mittal wanted to focus in on a single problem and to tackle it with a smart design. As a product designer, he knew that if he were to create a good experience, people would use the product more.

Mittal decided to redesign the squat toilet footrest to reduce stress on the knees, hips, and thighs. He included an angle of elevation and increased the surface area to improve the centre of gravity to help with balance. His SquatEase toilet is a more ergonomic, human-centred design.

Photo credit: SquatEase

“Floor markings on the toilet are designed as a guide to identify the correct spot to turn and squat to aim correctly,” said Satyajit. “Ergonomics aid people with joint/knee problems to squat easily.”

Many people are unsure about how to squat on a toilet, necessitating increased cleaning and water for flushing. Satyajit designed SquatEase to be unidirectional and thus easier to maintain and clean.

Photo credit: SquatEase

“It’s great to see the response we got from the user as well as the cleaners as the defecation spot was close to the drain and easy to pour flush,” Satyajit said. “It feels good to see the impact it has created.”

This project aims to address the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: 3. Precent disease and reduce mortality; 6.1 Achieve universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene

WDO’s World Design Impact Prize™ was established in 2011 to honour and elevate industrial design driven projects that benefit society. The award aims to bring visibility and recognition to socially responsible design initiatives around the world.

View the other World Design Impact Prize 2021 shortlisted projects.

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