Pay for Pee Keeps Indian Town Clean

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


The task is huge: 2.6 billion people, or 41 percent of the world’s population, is without access to basic sanitation. As a result, most have to make do and defecate or urinate wherever they can. In crowded urban areas, the result is an unpleasant source of disease and filth that fouls living spaces and sickens or kills many people.

In Indian cities, between one-quarter and one-half of the population, mostly slum-dwellers, has inadequate or no provision for sanitation.

Many government-built communal toilet blocks are in a sad state. They are overburdened by queues of people that can stretch a mile-long in the mornings. They can also be too expensive for many slum dwellers. Often government-built toilet blocks are in disrepair after just three months, and people return to defecating in the streets.

In 2008, the International Year of Sanitation (, more than 330 million people in India do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. And in the case of the remote town of Musiri in Tamil Nadu state, many residents relieve themselves on river banks, leading to infectious diseases like diarrhoea.

But an ingenious scheme is keeping streets clean and people relieved. Rather than viewing human waste as an expensive problem and annoyance, poor residents are being paid up to a dollar a month to use public toilets. By paying people to use the toilets, the government avoids having to run campaigns to get people to change their habits.

“In fact, many of us started using toilets for urination only after the ecosan (ecological sanitation) toilets were constructed in the area,” S. Rajasekaran, a truck cleaner, to The Times of India.

The urine is being collected to be used as a crop fertilizer by the state’s agricultural university ( ). About 150 residents use the eco-sanitation toilet daily. It is designed to collect faeces as well: it too is used as fertilizer.

“We’re motivating people to know the value of their urine,” Marathi Subburaman, who came up with the novel idea, told CNN. “The urine that is collected goes into fields for paddy crops, and of course the faeces becomes good compost in a matter of months.”

Subburaman’s non-profit Society for Community Organization and People’s Education (SCOPE) has teamed up with Tamil Nadui Agricultural University and are studying how much urine is needed to fertilize a field.

“Next year, we can install urine banks so we can sell the urine to farmers,” he said.

The locals are given cards and each trip is recorded. At the end of the month, the cards are handed in and the money collected.

The average amount paid out is based on the assumption most people need to go twice a day.

If some get cheeky and try to make more money from pretending they need to go to the toilet, there is a solution: “If they ask to go three, four times a day, then something’s wrong,” Subburaman said. “We ask them to go to a doctor.”

Another successful model is the Indian NGO SPARC (Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres) ( SPARC is an Indian NGO established in Mumbai in 1984 that began working with women pavement dwellers.

It has been designing and building toilet blocks in Indian cities, bringing access to toilets and washing facilities to hundreds of thousands of poor urban Indians. It has built toilet blocks for 400,000 people in eight Indian cities. It trains community groups to build, manage and maintain the toilet blocks. It has also proven that local groups can take on the management and costs of providing toilet facilities.


  • World Toilet Organization: The global non-profit organization committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions. Website:
  • World Toilet College: Established in 2005, the World Toilet College (WTC) started as a social enterprise, with the belief that there is a need for an independent world body to ensure the best practices and standards in toilet design, cleanliness, and sanitation technologies are adopted and disseminated through training. Website:
  • Official website for the 2008 International Year of Sanitation. Website:
  • Waste has expert knowledge on domestic solid and liquid waste management and sanitation issues. Its website offers a comparison of designs and methods for toilets. Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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© David South Consulting 2023

By David South Consulting

David South Consulting is an international development media and consulting service. Designing human development and health. Editor and writer of Southern Innovator.



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