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Small-town sanitation sparks big change

Completed project: India

Innovative sanitation is bringing health and dignity to Odisha’s towns, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arghyam Foundation.

Project overview

Full title: Odisha State-Level Sanitation Partnership or Project Nirmal: Piloting appropriate and sustainable sanitation service delivery in two cities of Odisha, India.

Dates: November 2014 – December 2019

Location: Angul and Dhenkanal Municipalities of Odisha, India

Our role: Practical Action acted as ‘system changers’ contributing to city-wide sanitation improvements by demonstrating appropriate and sustainable service delivery.

Participants: Direct – Residents of the Dhenkanal and Angul municipalities (in particular those living in slum communities), and officials dealing with urban sanitation at state and municipality level. Indirect – the population living in the entire state of Odisha.

Project budget: US$2,076,542

Aim: Cities Fit for People

Lead donors: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Arghyam Foundation

Partners: Centre for Policy Research, Orissa State Volunteers and Social Workers Association (OSVSWA), Housing and Urban Development, Government of Odisha, and Municipalities of Angul and Dhenkanal.

We had to queue for hours to book a pit-emptying vehicle and didn’t know when our turn would come. Manual emptying has risks for the health of the people. Now I call the free number to book a pit emptier vehicle in the morning. Their service is very good, and we are very happy.

Jamarin Pattnaik, Dhenkanal Municipality


Nearly half of India’s urban population lack access to basic sanitation systems. The smaller towns in the state of Odisha, located in the east of India, are some of the most deprived.

In small towns, the population is growing particularly fast, posing a problem for the authorities: setting up new sanitation services in multiple small towns is costly and more complicated than extending existing services in larger cities. Moreover, the municipal authorities have little opportunity to recover the costs invested in sanitation services, meaning they are often deprioritised.

Even the existing toilets have problems: because these small towns are not connected to a conventional piped sewage system, toilets utilise on-site tanks, but emptying them is a health risk, as well as time-consuming for residents. When this project began, there were no treatment facilities for the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks in any municipality in the State of Odisha.

Without proper access to toilets, people were left with no option other than to urinate and defecate outside in the open, where human waste is left untreated. This situation has a devastating impact on the health of the population, especially women and children whose safety is at risk when seeking private areas.

Our approach

Through this pilot project, we demonstrated to local authorities that inclusive, sustainable sanitation solutions can be achieved through a combination of training, private sector partnerships and innovative approaches to service delivery. Our expertise and previous successes helped to earn their trust.

Focusing on the small towns of in Dhenkanal and Angul, we navigated complex, bureaucratic processes to create plans that would benefit the poorest and most vulnerable residents – the people whose needs are often overlooked in conventional city planning. Key activities included:

  • Construction of new community toilets.
  • New waste processing plants that treat and dispose of human waste safely.
  • Improved working conditions for waste tank-emptiers, and a free phone service for residents to request same-day tank emptying.
  • Establishment of ‘Sanitation Committees’, where residents can set priorities and raise issues with the local government, as well as promoting good hygiene practices to their peers. 

We’ve now handed over project management and day-to-day delivery to the municipalities, making it a long-term, sustainable solution. Thanks to the guidelines, reports, and waste-management models produced, our work is being replicated and scaled up.

By demonstrating the power of sustainable sanitation solutions for small towns, we inspired broader changes: improvements in health, local environment and human rights followed, sparking collaborations between local governments and the private sector.

Our goals

Project Nirmal focuses on city-wide sanitation in two towns. It aims to increase the number of toilets available, especially for slum dwellers, and create safe pit-emptying services and treatment facilities for the whole town through collaboration with city governments and private sector participation. The learnings support the case for replicating the model right across Odisha State. Our goals were:

  • Secure a long-term commitment from the state and local Governments towards sanitation service delivery in small towns.
  • Capacity development of states and cities for effective sanitation service delivery.
  • Increase in the number of people with access to better sanitation services in the pilot towns.
  • Improvement of the city-wide planning approaches for sanitation.
  • Demonstration of the effectiveness of Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) models.
  • Our achievements

    To adequately address all issues and challenges related to urban sanitation in the state and the two towns, we worked across multiple areas, including: research, policy and advocacy, pilot implementation, participatory planning, behaviour change communication, and the exchange knowledge and expertise with relevant institutions.

    • Project Nirmal was considered as a learning ground on FSM by the State Government.
    • Treatment plants were established in two locations following all norms of the Odisha State Government and all statutory clearance certificates were obtained from the different regulatory agencies. During the project period, 11 treatment plants (including these two) were built and the state government now plans to roll out the construction of plants in every town in the state.
    • The project successfully demonstrated the delivery of a sustainable sanitation service delivery model for small towns.
    • For the first time, a participatory integrated city sanitation plan involving communities living in informal settlements was prepared in the state.
    • The project supported improved access to toilets for slum communities including community toilets, so that a very basic provision is at least now available for all.
    • An innovative institutional and Integrated FSM model was established, involving the participation of the private sector.
    • Project experiences influenced State Government FSM policy, a fact well acknowledged in the state Government document, ‘Odisha’s Journey of Faecal Sludge and Septage Management’.
    • Dhenkanal Council won a national award as a ‘Pioneer in Faecal Sludge and Septage Management’ for its outstanding performance.
    • So far, 25,000 households have benefited from improved sanitation services – a total of over 100,0000 people.
    • A draft, legislative framework for human waste management was also prepared and submitted to the state by the project.
    • Project experiences led to the preparation of a capacity building strategy on FSM for the state of Odisha.


City Sanitation Plan 2018, Angul Municipality, Odisha

City Sanitation Plan 2018, Dhenkanal Municipality, Odisha

Odisha’s Journey of Faecal Sludge and Septage Management: Towards sustainable sanitation goals

Sustainable Development Goals

This project contributes to progress towards at least four of the seventeen SDGs.

3 - Good Health and Well-Being


6 - Clean Water and Sanitation

8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth


11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities


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