TEDGlobal 2014

Joe Madiath: Better toilets, better life

Filmed:

In rural India, the lack of toilets creates a big, stinking problem. It leads to poor quality water, one of the leading causes of disease in India, and has a disproportionately negative effect on women. Joe Madiath introduces a program to help villagers help themselves, by building clean, protected water and sanitation systems and requiring everyone in the village to collaborate -- with significant benefits that ripple across health, education and even government.

- Social entrepreneur
Joe Madiath brings Indian villagers together around water and sanitation projects. Full bio

It is very fashionable and proper
to speak about food
00:12
in all its forms, all its colors,
aromas and tastes.
00:20
But after the food goes through
the digestive system,
00:27
when it is thrown out as crap,
00:33
it is no longer fashionable
to speak about it.
00:36
It is rather revolting.
00:39
I'm a guy who has graduated
from bullshit to full-shit.
00:45
(Laughter)
00:52
My organization, Gram Vikas, which means
"village development organization,"
00:55
was working in the area
of renewable energy.
01:02
On the most part, we were
producing biogas,
01:05
biogas for rural kitchens.
01:09
We produce biogas in India
by using animal manure,
01:14
which usually, in India,
is called cow dung.
01:19
But as the gender-sensitive
person that I am,
01:22
I would like to call it bullshit.
01:26
But realizing later on
01:29
how important were sanitation
and the disposal of crap in a proper way,
01:31
we went into the arena of sanitation.
01:39
Eighty percent of all diseases
in India and most developing countries
01:44
are because of poor quality water.
01:53
And when we look at the reason
for poor quality water,
01:57
you find that it is our abysmal attitude
to the disposal of human waste.
02:01
Human waste, in its rawest form,
02:08
finds its way back to drinking water,
bathing water, washing water,
02:12
irrigation water, whatever water you see.
02:18
And this is the cause for 80 percent
of the diseases in rural areas.
02:22
In India, it is unfortunately only the
women who carry water.
02:29
So for all domestic needs,
women have to carry water.
02:35
So that is a pitiable state of affairs.
02:40
Open defecation is rampant.
02:45
Seventy percent of India
defecates in the open.
02:48
They sit there out in the open,
02:53
with the wind on their sails,
02:55
hiding their faces, exposing their bases,
02:57
and sitting there in pristine glory --
03:01
70 percent of India.
03:06
And if you look at the world total,
03:09
60 percent of all the crap that is thrown
into the open is by Indians.
03:12
A fantastic distinction.
03:20
I don't know if we Indians can be proud
of such a distinction.
03:23
(Laughter)
03:27
So we, together with a lot of villages,
03:29
we began to talk about how to really
address this situation of sanitation.
03:32
And we came together and formed
a project called MANTRA.
03:36
MANTRA stands for Movement and Action
Network for Transformation of Rural Areas.
03:42
So we are speaking about transformation,
transformation in rural areas.
03:50
Villages that agree
to implement this project,
03:57
they organize a legal society
04:01
where the general body
consists of all members
04:03
who elect a group of men and women
who implement the project
04:08
and, later on, who look after
the operation and maintenance.
04:14
They decide to build a toilet
and a shower room.
04:18
And from a protected water source,
04:24
water will be brought to an elevated water
reservoir and piped to all households
04:27
through three taps:
04:34
one in the toilet, one in the shower,
one in the kitchen, 24 hours a day.
04:37
The pity is that our cities,
like New Delhi and Bombay,
04:44
do not have a 24-hour water supply.
04:48
But in these villages, we want to have it.
04:52
There is a distinct difference
in the quality.
04:56
Well in India, we have a theory,
which is very much accepted
05:01
by the government bureaucracy
and all those who matter,
05:07
that poor people deserve poor solutions
05:10
and absolutely poor people deserve
pathetic solutions.
05:15
This, combined with
a Nobel Prize-worthy theory that
05:21
the cheapest is the most economic,
05:28
is the heady cocktail that the poor
are forced to drink.
05:30
We are fighting against this.
05:37
We feel that the poor have been
humiliated for centuries.
05:40
And even in sanitation,
05:46
they should not be humiliated.
05:49
Sanitation is more about dignity
05:51
than about human disposal of waste.
05:54
And so you build these toilets
and very often,
05:56
we have to hear that the toilets are
better than their houses.
06:01
And you can see that in front are
the attached houses
06:07
and the others are the toilets.
06:11
So these people, without a single
exception of a family in a village,
06:13
decide to build a toilet, a bathing room.
06:20
And for that, they come together,
collect all the local materials --
06:24
local materials like rubble,
sand, aggregates,
06:30
usually a government subsidy is available
06:35
to meet at least part of the cost
of external materials
06:37
like cement, steel, toilet commode.
06:41
And they build a toilet
and a bathing room.
06:46
Also, all the unskilled laborers, that is
daily wage earners, mostly landless,
06:50
are given an opportunity to be
trained as masons and plumbers.
06:56
So while these people are being trained,
others are collecting the materials.
07:03
And when both are ready,
they build a toilet, a shower room,
07:08
and of course also a water tower,
an elevated water reservoir.
07:14
We use a system of two leach pits
to treat the waste.
07:21
From the toilet, the muck comes
into the first leach pit.
07:26
And when it is full, it is blocked
and it can go to the next.
07:31
But we discovered that if you plant
banana trees, papaya trees
07:36
on the periphery of these leach pits,
07:41
they grow very well
because they suck up all the nutrients
07:44
and you get very tasty bananas, papayas.
07:47
If any of you come to my place,
07:53
I would be happy to share
these bananas and papayas with you.
07:56
So there you can see
the completed toilets, the water towers.
08:01
This is in a village where
most of the people are even illiterate.
08:07
It is always a 24-hour water supply
08:12
because water gets polluted
very often when you store it --
08:15
a child dips his or her hand into it,
something falls into it.
08:20
So no water is stored. It's always on tap.
08:26
This is how an elevated
water reservoir is constructed.
08:33
And that is the end product.
08:37
Because it has to go high,
and there is some space available,
08:39
two or three rooms are made
under the water tower,
08:44
which are used by the village for
different committee meetings.
08:46
We have had clear evidence
of the great impact of this program.
08:51
Before we started, there were, as usual,
08:58
more than 80 percent of people suffering
from waterborne diseases.
09:02
But after this, we have empirical evidence
that 82 percent, on average,
09:07
among all these villages --
1,200 villages have completed it --
09:14
waterborne diseases
have come down 82 percent.
09:18
(Applause)
09:23
Women usually used to spend,
especially in the summer months,
09:29
about six to seven hours
a day carrying water.
09:35
And when they went to carry water,
09:43
because, as I said earlier,
it's only women who carry water,
09:46
they used to take their little children,
girl children, also to carry water,
09:52
or else to be back at home
to look after the siblings.
09:58
So there were less than nine percent
of girl children attending school,
10:03
even if there was a school.
10:07
And boys, about 30 percent.
10:10
But girls, it has gone to about 90 percent
and boys, almost to 100 percent.
10:12
(Applause)
10:19
The most vulnerable section in a village
10:24
are the landless laborers who are
the daily wage-earners.
10:27
Because they have gone
through this training
10:31
to be masons and plumbers and bar benders,
10:34
now their ability to earn has
increased 300 to 400 percent.
10:38
So this is a democracy in action
10:46
because there is a general body,
a governing board, the committee.
10:49
People are questioning,
people are governing themselves,
10:53
people are learning to manage
their own affairs,
10:56
they are taking their own futures
into their hands.
10:58
And that is democracy at
the grassroots level in action.
11:02
More than 1,200 villages
have so far done this.
11:10
It benefits over 400,000 people
and it's still going on.
11:16
And I hope it continues to move ahead.
11:22
For India and such developing countries,
11:29
armies and armaments,
11:33
software companies and spaceships
11:39
may not be as important
as taps and toilets.
11:48
Thank you. Thank you very much.
11:54
(Applause)
11:57
Thank you.
12:01

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About the Speaker:

Joe Madiath - Social entrepreneur
Joe Madiath brings Indian villagers together around water and sanitation projects.

Why you should listen

When he was 12, Joe Madiath unionized young workers to fight for better work conditions. They were employed by... his own father. He was therefore sent away to a boarding school. After his studies, travels across India, and participating in relief work afer a devastating cyclone, in 1979 he founded Gram Vikas. The name translates to "village development" in both Hindi and Oriya, the language of the state of Orissa, where the organization is primarily active.

The bulk of Gram Vikas' efforts are on water and sanitation. The organization's approach is based on partnership with villagers and gender equity. In order to benefit from Gram Vikas' support to install water and sanitation systems, the entire village community needs to commit to participate in the planning, construction and maintenance, and all villagers, regardless of social, economic or caste status, will have access to the same facilities. This requirement of 100 percent participation is difficult, Madiath acknowledges, but it leads to socially equitable and long-term solutions. Gram Vikas has already reached over 1,200 communities and over 400,000 people.