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India’s sanitation is broken, but there’s a plan to clean it up

CNET senior reporter Ben Fox Rubin opens the rusty door to a toilet in a slum in Faridabad, just south of New Delhi. Facilities here smell, have no lighting and are completely dysfunctional. Raw sewage, ripe with viruses and bacteria, can transmit a long list of diseases. Flying insects and contaminated water supplies can spread…

Garv toilets India
Garv toilets India

CNET senior reporter Ben Fox Rubin opens the rusty door to a toilet in a slum in Faridabad, just south of New Delhi. Facilities here smell, have no lighting and are completely dysfunctional.

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Raw sewage, ripe with viruses and bacteria, can transmit a long list of diseases. Flying insects and contaminated water supplies can spread diarrhea, cholera, dysentery and the novel coronavirus.

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Sanitation is being remade thanks to the countrywide Swachh Bharat initiative and startups up like Garv Toilets, which are looking to give millions of people access to toilets for the first time.

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One of Garv’s new facilities at a New Delhi conference center is outfitted with automated lighting and cleaning, as well as real-time sensors to ensure the facilities are still working.

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Inside one of Garv’s toilets.

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Garv recently celebrated its 1,000th installation, providing toilet access to community areas, schools and government buildings. 

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But there’s still enormous work to do to improve sanitation in India. Here at the front of the slum in Faridabad there’s an aquamarine-tinted drainage ditch filled with sewage and trash.

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Poor hygiene practices, like not washing hands after using the bathroom, are common in poor and rural Indian communities, making these areas especially vulnerable to diseases, including the coronavirus.

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Many people, even in urban areas, find themselves in precarious living situations, lacking basic resources like clean water, toilets or even roofs over their heads.

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In a narrow alley in Faridabad, a woman and her baby look out of a doorway.

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Garv toilets India

As we arrived at the slum, we quickly drew a crowd. Kids gathered around us, one rolling a metal hoop along the path with a stick.

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Some of the local boys really wanted to pose for a picture.

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Many of the existing toilet facilities suffer from extreme neglect. Residents often forgo the disgusting mess and hop over a short brick wall to defecate in a vacant lot nearby instead of using a toilet.

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“We don’t use the public toilet at all as they are far away and very dirty,” says Maya, a 16-year-old girl sitting in a nomadic Banjara tent camp. “My dadaji [grandfather] also uses the open field. For our bath too, we do so by tying a cloth around and using a bucket of water in the open field.” 

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Watching from his front step, a man came out to greet us.

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A local shop at the entrance of a New Delhi slum.

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At Garv Toilets’ manufacturing facility, close to  the Faridabad slum, we can see the steel design, with built-in automated features like lighting and cleaning.

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An employee works on steel toilet construction at Garv’s facility.

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One of the Garv Toilets’ community installations in the town of Khair.

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